The 100th Anniversary of a “Christmas in the Trenches”

ThidGasMaskSomething remarkable happened in December 1914. On a battlefield in France — the “Western Front” of World War I — the armies of Great Britain and France were facing the army of Germany. They had been killing one another for weeks. And yet, one night, as Christmas approached, compassion held sway.

The German soldiers began singing in their trench. To the French and British soldiers across No Man’s Land the words were indistinguishable, but the tune was unmistakeable — Stille Nacht. Silent Night!

The British joined them. Then the French. A unified hymn was raised to the Lord God in three languages.

Then, one by one, the soldiers came out — unarmed.

German soldiers helped French soldiers carry their wounded back to their lines. The English and the French helped the Germans bury and honor their dead. Then, rather than return to their lines and aim their guns again, the soldiers shared chocolate and cigarettes with one another. They played a game of soccer which the Germans won handily. And only after the game did they reveal that several of the players on their side had been teammates back home in Munich on a little club known as Bayern. They shared stories of home. Showed one another photos of their wives, their children. They met one another for the first time, not as nameless, faceless uniforms they’d been ordered to kill, but as people.

This story has been commemorated in a movie entitled Joyeux Noel, and in a song by John McCutcheon entitled, “Christmas in the Trenches”…

There is an interesting aspect to this story — the chain of command from the respective armies had issued standing orders against this sort of thing. It was a court marshal offense. You see, a soldier who “fraternizes with the enemy” who offers “aid and comfort” might discover what these men discovered — your enemies are people, too. The soldiers on all sides were disobeying direct orders, risking courts marshal and even being shot, in order to show compassion to fellow human beings.

Now, let’s take this a step further…

All of these men came from cultural backgrounds that claimed to be Christian. Now, I know not everyone who claims to be Christian is actually Christian (Scripture makes this abundantly clear) but, for the sake of argument, we will assume these men at least had a basic knowledge of Scripture and some measure of respect for it’s teachings — if only because it was their cultural background.

What they did in their direct disobedience to their respective chains of command was exhibit obedience to the very words of Christ, Himself…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:34-35

Jesus commanded believers to love one another. In fact, it would be a sign that they really are His disciples. Their commanding officers, in effect, had ordered them to kill their brothers in Christ. On this night, they decided to obey Christ, instead.

Now, before you send me e-mails directing me to Romans chapter 13 and arguing that God has told us to obey those in authority over us allow me to point out this…

These soldiers called a truce during a time of year when we commemorate the birth of Christ. Consider the biblical account of this…

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. — Luke 2:8-11

Who was born?

Christ the what?

The LORD.

HE IS LORD! His commands come first. He is Lord over everything, even the laws of men and their institutions. I recommend you read Lord of the Law (particularly Part 4, Higher Law) for a better understanding of this concept.

He commanded we show love one for another. Who does the Bible say we should obey — God or men?

Now, you may object and say, “Okay, fine. These three armies came from Christian cultures. Maybe they ought not to have been fighting. But what about armies from non-Christian cultures? To fight such an army would not be killing a brother in Christ, is that okay?”

Let me answer with an account from Scripture…

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” — Luke 10:25-29

This lawyer is offering a similar objection. Christ answers him with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point being to show love to everyone — even those our culture tells us we should despise.

Never forget: the Kingdom of God is comprised of the elect from every tribe and language. Look forward to that day…

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” — Revelation 5:1-10

The word here translated as “nation” is the Greek word ethnos. It is where we get our word “ethnic.” The Kingdom of God is comprised of people from every ethnic group. So it really does not matter who our earthly kingdoms order us to kill. The army we would see through our gun sights is almost certainly populated with God’s elect.

Maybe that is why Jesus and the leaders of earthly kingdoms have such radically different views concerning our conduct toward enemies. Earthly Kings insist on criminalizing “fraternizing with the enemy” or providing them with “aid and comfort.” Yet Jesus said…

You have heard it said, “You shall love your Neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies…” — Matthew 5:43-44

It’s hard to love someone without fraternizing, aiding and comforting them.

I wonder which point of view Christians ought to adopt.

The “Perfect” Christmas Gift (a repost)

Note: This was originally posted on December 10, 2012

ThidRabbiThe Old Testament Law set an impossibly high standard. There is no aspect of life that is untouched by God’s Law, keeping it would be a monumental task. Then Jesus came…

… and made it more difficult.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes the impossibly high standard even more impossible (if that’s even possible). The Law forbid murder, yet Jesus said anyone who is even angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. The Law forbid adultery, yet Jesus said anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart. The Law outlined righteous behavior, yet Jesus pointed out that to keep the Law out of obligation is to fail. True righteousness comes from within, and sinful man has only one nature — sinful.

You’d think Jesus would cut everyone some slack. Mankind was already having a tough enough time just trying to keep the letter of the law, but keeping the spirit of it, too? Come on! And yet, rather than cut any slack, Jesus insisted the standard was set.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:17-20

You need to understand that the scribes and Pharisees were basically full-time law keepers. It was pretty much their job. And Jesus is telling everyone that the standard for entering the kingdom of heaven is to do better than the scribes and Pharisees — a tall order, indeed.

Then, Jesus takes it up yet another notch…

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:48

The standard has officially reached the level of “absurd.” No one is perfect like God. And, if Jesus is correct when he says this is the standard for entering heaven (and he is), then the question becomes…

Who can ever enter heaven?

The answer is in Christmas.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” — Galatians 4:4-5

Notice Paul mentions that Christ was born “under the law.” This is crucial. You see, we all failed in keeping the law. We didn’t even come close to keeping the impossibly high standard God set before us. None of us rate entry into the kingdom of heaven. So why does it matter that Christ was born “under the law”?

So he could keep it. Notice again what Jesus said in Matthew 5…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” — Matthew 5:17

He came to fulfill the law — to perfectly keep every, single aspect of it. He is perfect like the heavenly Father. He not only rates entry into the kingdom of heaven, he is the King.

So, why should we care? Well, remember how Jesus said “…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”? Guess what. Our righteousness CAN exceed theirs because Christ transfers HIS righteousness to our account. It’s called “imputed righteousness.”

When Jesus Christ was crucified he not only took upon himself the sins of his people, he also gave to them his righteousness. He bore God’s wrath for our transgressions against God’s law and gave to us his perfect fulfillment of the law. He stood before God as guilty so that we might stand before God justified.

“For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:21

Christ’s righteousness is the perfect Christmas gift.

The Message Goes On

The World’s Last Night by C.S. Lewis

Government oversight of God’s Kingdom?

First-century Christians were persecuted by Rome as “enemies of the state” — a charge that would have been overlooked if those Christians had just been willing to share the loyalty they had for Christ with Caesar. Rome didn’t mind if you worshipped God, as long as you paid proper respect (i.e. worship) to Caesar, too.

Empire10To their credit, many of those early Christians would have rather died than share one ounce of the adoration, to which only God is entitled, with another. We know this because many of them did exactly that — they died at the hands of a secular government that demanded of them a thing they just could not give…

…their absolute loyalty.

It is a situation that has survived to this very day — Fast forward to the 20th century.

World War I put a fresh emphasis on the loyalty one “owed” to his or her nation state. That loyalty was absolute. You must answer your “nation’s call.” And, if answering that call costs you your life, well, that’s only appropriate — you owe it.

Later, with the rise of more and more totalitarian governments like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Communist China, we see this demand on loyalty increase. And, just like their spiritual forefathers in the Roman Empire, Christians found themselves in a difficult position.

Communist governments closely monitored religion. Sermons were subject to state approval and censorship. Only state-sanctioned churches were allowed. You could participate in your chosen religion only as long as it did not interfere with your first priority — absolute loyalty to the state.

You see, everything was viewed only in light of its value to the state — including people. Christians were particularly dangerous, because they recognized something — someone — as greater than the state. Since that kind of attitude was intolerable, these Christians had to be dealt with. Those who refused government oversight found themselves in prison. Many were tortured. Many died. Just like in Rome.

This should come as no surprise, really. The 20th century theologian and writer, Francis Schaeffer, outlined this quite well…

“We must realize that the Reformation worldview leads in the direction of government freedom. But the humanist worldview with inevitable certainty leads in the direction of statism. This is so because humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state.”

Fast forward to the present.

china_church_stifled_1148038826_855986In China Christians are subject to the same kind of scrutiny as the Christians who lived in communist countries in Eastern Europe. There are state-approved churches. Other churches are outlawed because they have no government oversight. Everyone is expected to owe their loyalty first to the state — to Caesar.

At this point, American Christians frequently will say, “I’m so glad that isn’t true here.” Or “I’m glad we live in a free country where that sort of thing couldn’t happen.”

Really?

Please consider…

There are those who will look at evidence like this and say it’s not big deal. After all, we don’t have a state-approved church. We don’t have federal government officials attending services in order to scrutinize the content like they do in China.

No, we don’t. But, in China the Christians are actively resisting the encroachment of the state into the church. In America many of our churches freely and enthusiastically embrace statism in their services — openly glorifying another.

Dave Black, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has cautioned against this kind of thing before…

“Our God is a color blind God. Our God is a dollar blind God. Our God is a status blind God. Our God is a nation blind God. To say or to imply that America is somehow a “holy nation” is, in my humble estimation, blasphemous. The household of God (to which I belong by God’s grace) is the only holy nation on earth. It includes in its membership all Christians of all ages, all nationalities, all levels of social strata, all levels of intelligence. The lesson is clear. From the moment of my conversion to Christ, and from the moment of your conversion to Christ, we have been in fellowship with every other Christian in the world, be they American or Ethiopian or Chinese or Iraqi or Iranian. The Bible tells us “we are all one in Christ Jesus” — and that includes our guest speaker this morning who came to us from southern India.

It is here, on the national level, that we are called upon to demonstrate to a lost world the reality of our fellowship. We are bound together by a unity that goes far beyond mere geography or nationality let alone hobby or personal interest or political affiliation or denomination. Only when we learn to see ourselves as this kind of a holy nation, only when we learn to treasure that kind of fellowship, only when we experience this kind of trans-national love, will we fulfill our vocation as saints.

Beware of the sin of nationalism, my friends. A Christian is a citizen of a heavenly commonwealth because he or she belongs to the holy nation of the people of God. This, and this alone, is the only Christian nation. Other nations may contain Christians, and they may be influenced to one degree or another by Christian principles, but there will never be a Christian nation except the people redeemed by the blood of Christ.”

I pray that God will grant the church in America the ability to recognize the sinfulness of nationalism and the courage to resist it. We are, indeed, citizens of a heavenly commonwealth — one that is NOT subject to the scrutiny of any earthly government.

Let’s act like it.

The Laws of Nature by C.S. Lewis

Remembering A.T. Robertson

Today is the 80th anniversary of the death of A. T. Robertson, one of the greatest Greek scholars who ever lived. His career as a professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is truly remarkable. And yet, his heart beat for the spread of the Gospel.

Read more about A.T. Robertson here.

A.T.Robertson-Thid-Art

Some memorable quotes of A.T. Robertson’s…

“The greatest proof that the Bible is inspired is that it has stood so much bad preaching.”

“The Greek New Testament is the New Testament. All else is translation.”

“God pity the poor preacher who has to hunt for something to preach — and the people who have to listen.”

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