A Warrior’s Joy

Zephaniah 3:14-17

Were you aware that God’s heart holds no greater joy than to surround you with His love and power, to whisper His love to you and sing for joy because you are His? God desires you to trust His heart and reciprocate His love as He holds you close.

What motivates a soldier to go into battle? What motivates a warrior to fight? In John 15:13-14a, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends . . . ,” Jesus said.

In America this week, we celebrate our independence and the freedom we enjoy as citizens of this country. We would do well to remember, freedom is never free. We owe a great debt to the men and women who, through the years, have served in the armed services or sacrificed their lives all over the world so we might live free.

I think about the major wars in recent history all the way back to World War I where men froze in the trenches through the winter. Or World War II, where thousands of men sacrificed their life on the beaches of Normandy as they crashed to the coastline of France to gain a toehold on the continent of Europe, drive back the enemy and ultimately win the battle for the world. I think of the battle in Korea, the war of Vietnam, the Gulf wars, and the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I think of how terrorism percolates up all over the world in a senseless destruction of innocent lives. Wherever it happens, men and women rise to fight for freedom and justice. They fight to protect the innocent and maintain the safety of citizens. We need to remember, freedom is never free. It comes at a cost, and it is worth fighting for. It involves self-denial and sacrifice. In the heat of battle, it might even include the spilling of blood. Men and women have died so we might live free in this land. I am grateful as we celebrate our freedom.

People of faith, however, also remember the Bible is full of images where the verses describe God as a warrior who does battle for us. God rescues us. He defeats our enemies. Jesus saves our lives, our souls. He forgives our sin and reconciles us to God the Father. Ultimately, God is the warrior who fights to win our hearts.

The Old Testament shares numerous stories of battles where God’s power gave the people victory. In the Old Testament book of Exodus, the major saving event happened when God sent Moses to face Pharaoh. God’s people were being held as slaves in Egypt, but Moses did not fight Pharaoh with an army. God used elements of nature to bring ten plagues upon the nation of Egypt and convince Pharaoh of His power.

Pharaoh finally said “Go. Go from my land. I give you my freedom.” But then he had the audacity to chase the Israelites into the desert. Pharaoh and his army mounted on horses and chariots and pursued them, armed to the teeth to destroy them. God used the Red Sea to defeat Pharaoh, drown the enemy, and give God’s people great victory.

Remember the battle of Jericho? Joshua and the Israelite army encountered a fortified, thick-walled city with God’s power going before them. God instructed Joshua to march around the city once a day for seven days. Then, on the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times, blow the trumpets, and shout praise to God. The walls of Jericho tumbled down, and God’s power gave them victory.

Do you remember when Goliath, the giant with the Philistine army, day after day brought challenge to God Himself and the Israelite army? The Israelite army shook in their sandals. But then the boy David wanted to fight Goliath. As David went out to face the Philistine giant, he said, “You come to me with sword, shield, and spear. I come to you in the name of the Lord our God. The Lord will give you to me in victory this day, for the battle is the Lord’s.”

David, the boy with a slingshot dropped the Philistine giant. The battle was the Lord’s. God was the warrior whose power gave the Israelites a great victory over Goliath and the Philistines that day.

Over and over again, God is the warrior who fights for us. The truth David spoke is true for us also. The battle is the Lord’s!

I don’t know what circumstances you face in life that are too powerful for you. I don’t know what enemies loom impossible for you to deal with in your own strength, but we would do well to, in faith and prayer, invite the Lord to release the Spirit’s power to do battle for us. God is the warrior who fights for us. God’s strength might change the circumstances of your life context totally, or He might change the hearts of those who are opposed to you and causing you difficulty.

God might heal your body physically. He might restore conflicted relationships, or His Spirit might be poured into your character and give you strength to persevere through the dark storm until you emerge on the other side and say, “God, thank you for seeing me through.”

In all these cases, God is the warrior, the champion who fights for us motivated by His love.

Zephaniah was God’s prophet in Jerusalem. He was the great grandson of King Hezekiah, a very godly King. He was the grandson of Manasseh, who was an idol worshiper. His father, Amnon, was in fact the worst, most evil king. Amnon promoted the worship of idols, child sacrifice, immorality, and worship practices with the priests and priestesses. Bloodshed, violence, and immorality were pervasive in the nation of Israel. The people lived in disregard of and ignorance for God’s Word.

Under the boy king Josiah (a colleague of Zephaniah the prophet), God’s book was rediscovered in the Temple, which led the boy king Josiah to institute major spiritual reform. Zephaniah the prophet, was a man of God, who begged God’s people to come back to Him so God would give them victory over their enemies, go before them to remove the evil from them, and open a new future. God in His love continued to fight to bring them back to His arms. He would fight the victory battle to remove their destructive habits and rhythms, which had been so harmful to them.

So Zephaniah paints a word picture of the Lord as a victorious warrior who has already won the battle and now comes back to sweep us up – His child – into His arms, hold us close, and sing for joy because we belong to him. We are safe, and we are loved. God cherishes us.

My granddaughter, Pema, just turned one year old. When I see her, which isn’t often enough, she is uncertain whether she is comfortable with me as her papa. She looks at her mom and dad as if they need to rescue her. Her trembling lip tells me she’s afraid, because she doesn’t know me yet. So I go into my “crazy papa” act. I sing, or I play, or I dance. I do whatever it takes so she may know she is okay with me, we can have fun together, and I love her.

Take that image and know it is God who holds you. He wants to break down your defenses and win your heart. He wants you to feel comfortable in the power of His love as you are held in His arms. He wants you to believe His promises and trust that His heart is good to you so you will reciprocate His love. He wants you to trust Him as you sing for joy because you belong to Him.

God is the warrior who has won the victorious battle over Satan and the enemy forces eternally. He is also the warrior who wants to hold us in His arms and win our hearts to Him.

I’d like to tell you the story about a Vietnam veteran named Dave Roever. Dave was raised in the state of Texas. When he was 21 years old, he married his high school sweetheart, Brenda, who just turned 18. Dave was drafted to fight in Vietnam, but because he was already enrolled as a seminary student, he had a letter of exemption. However, night after night, as he watched news reports of soldiers who were killed in action fighting for America in the far-off land of Vietnam, he felt the tug of his heart and enlisted in the Navy. He kissed his wife Brenda goodbye promising, “I’ll be back without scars.” Boy, was that a wrong statement!

Dave was trained to be a gunner on a river boat in a heavy combat area of Vietnam. Then came July 26, 1969, a very significant, momentous, day for Dave. He was holding a white phosphorus hand grenade about 6 inches from his right ear when a sniper’s bullet detonated the grenade.

“I looked down and saw my face on my boots. My chest was ripped open, and I saw my own heart beating, pumping blood out of an open artery. My skin was literally melting off my body. The rescuers flipped me face down on a stretcher but the phosphorus from my body caught the stretcher on fire.

“They finally got me to a helicopter to be airlifted out of that combat area. The medic sitting next to me was literally filling out the paperwork on how, when, and where I was killed in action. I finally yelled, ‘Medic!’ and they knew I was still alive.

“Eventually I was taken to a hospital in Japan. One day in my healing and recovery, I asked for a mirror. That day,” Roever says, “I lost hope. It was a worse day for me than the day I was wounded in Vietnam, worse than having my face, fingers, skin, and hair blown off. My life had been saved, but now I feared the rejection of my wife.” Roever knew Brenda could not love him anymore. After all, how could she love a freak, a scarred monster?”

Eventually, he was shipped back to a hospital in America, and the day arrived when his wife Brenda came to see him at the hospital. Roever was frightened of her rejection of how he now looked.

As the doctor and Brenda entered the unit where 13 men in a severe burn unit were being cared for, she walked up to his bed and said, “That’s not my husband.” The doctor said “Yes, ma’am. That is your husband, Mr. Roever.” She looked at his wrist band and said, “I guess it is him!”

Dave awakened, and Brenda smiled and said, “Welcome home, Davie. I love you. I’ll always love you. Then she bent down and kissed what was left of his face. When she straightened from that welcome-home kiss, scar tissue stuck to her lips. Dave shares, “I knew that if she could still love me, I could heal and still have a life.”

Now, with the help of Jesus Christ, Roever has healed, and he travels the world sharing his story of Jesus’ redemption. The United States armed services employs Roever as a resiliency coach, paying him to tell wounded soldiers his story and his hope is in Jesus Christ.

Remember, freedom is not free. Jesus is the warrior who comes to us wherever we are wounded and fallen. He has given His life, and His heart is committed to love us unconditionally. Jesus bends to kiss us in our broken places, in our wounds – whatever the cause. Jesus, you see, emptied Himself of all power and authority. He became our servant. He submitted to the will of the Father. He submitted to the warped justice of Pilate. He surrendered to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. Why?

Jesus, our warrior, was motivated out of love for you. He knew the shed blood spilled out and flowing down the cross was the only power that could rescue us so God would see us forgiven, with sins atoned. The door is opened wide to be reconciled to the Father.

God has fought the battle, and you now belong to Him. He has won our hearts forever. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg