Guest Post by Joost Nixon
Last year on a rainy day near Kathmandu, a Nepali friend and I were on an evening errand for milk. We were tight-rope walking on top of walls because the rain had transformed the dirt roads into goo. Our route took us near a rare unplowed field and an adjacent temple. When we got home my friend—as grounded as a Scottish Presbyterian—told me that no one cultivates that field near the temple because for decades those who have tried have met unexpected deaths. The “god” is protecting his “turf.” But his response still rings in my ear, “But we are Christians. Ours is the true God. So we should buy the land and plant a church there.” He was itching to see his Lord do battle with his city’s idols.
We should mark his attitude, and consider our own. There is an old hymn we sing occasionally in the church where I worship–one for which the boys especially clamor. The title seems so scandalous today: “The Son of God Goes Forth to War.” I have often wondered why many find the title so grating. It could be that we are embarrassed by its overtly martial emphasis. It raises specters of the sins of our fathers. Few wars can be celebrated. Indeed, even just wars bring tragedy. But we should be careful not to overcorrect. We dare not eliminate the Bible’s rich imagery of the martial victory of Christ. Let us consider for a moment how very different the Son of God’s war is from our own.
When war is holy
The Lord Jesus truly wages a good and holy war. Consider his adversary. His war is against Satan, who murdered the human race with his deception (John 8:44). The idolatry that permeates the world is not worship of nothing. Paul reminds us that those who sacrifice to idols are really sacrificing to demons (1 Cor. 10:20). In Revelation 20, when the devil is thrown into the lake of fire, there to be tormented day and night forever and ever, it is glad news. It is worth celebrating.
This is especially true when we consider the casualties. Non-westerners see more clearly than we do the cruelty–the tyranny–of these gods. They know there are dark spiritual forces at work behind the idols of wood and stone. The oppression is real, and is manifested both spiritually and ideologically. The Son of God wages war to free those who are held captive by the devil to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26).
Also, Jesus’ war is holy because its objective is holy. Jesus must reign until all his enemies are put under his feet, and then he himself will be subjected to the Father, that God might be all in all (1 Cor. 15:25, 28). The goal of Christ’s warfare is the glory of God. The glory of God leads to the gladness of all peoples (Ps. 67).
When the Bible uses the language of warfare to describe the work of Christ, we must remember that there never was a more just war. It is one of liberation. Of bully-bashing. It is one in which the Lord Jesus lays down his life for his friends, and rises again to humiliate the spiritual rulers and crush the head of the dragon. So we should celebrate, and not shrink from it.
Zealous for battle
Knowing this, we can look back and see why Yahweh is always picking fights with idols. He picked fights with the gods of Egypt in the Ten Plagues, successfully challenging and shaming Egypt’s gods. Yahweh, not Khnum, is God of the Nile. Yahweh, not Neper, is God of crops. Yahweh, not Ra, is Lord of the sun. This contrast was made powerfully in the Exodus. “On all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment–I am the LORD” (Exod. 12:12). After the Red Sea deliverance, the women led by Miriam danced and sang, “Yahweh is a Warrior” (Exod. 15:3).
Yahweh picked a fight with the gods of the Philistines. He allowed the ark of the covenant to go into captivity, but only to break Dagon, the god of the Ashdodites, before the mercy seat (1 Sam. 5:4). When the Arameans suggested God was not “of the valleys,” Yahweh specifically defeated them there to show he rules everywhere (1 Kings 20:28-29). And who can forget the duel Yahweh staged with Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18)? Elijah was bold enough in his God to make it all or nothing with the prophets of Baal, “the one who answers by fire, He is God” (1 Kings 18:24). Assyria, Chaldea, Greece, Rome—Yahweh showed his supremacy over each of their gods in turn. Well over 60 times in Ezekiel God emphasizes that through his actions, people would know “that I am the LORD.” He is distinguishing himself from all idols as the one and only, the true and living God.
There are countless other examples, but the most conspicuous is the cross. It was through the cross that Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15). He did so not by killing, but by dying. Accordingly, He calls us take up our crosses and follow Him, to sow our lives like seeds. Paul understood this suffering, writing, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3). That said, it would be another mistake to say that because the war is not of the flesh, it is not a real war. The conflict is real. God is zealous for His glory, and he will not share it with another (Is. 42:8). Truly, the war the Lord Jesus wages against all idols is a holy war, worthy of song. What war has ever been more noble, more merciful, or more liberating?
The continuing liberation
Last Summer on a rainy day near Monrovia, a Liberian friend and I stood at a construction site. Near us were the charred remains of a massive stump—the vestiges of a towering sacred grove. Only a few years earlier, villagers—painted white–met at the grove for worship. “Blood sacrifice. Female circumcision. They did it all.” And now a church and Christian school were replacing the site of demonic ritual. Of course, the church members had been warned. The spirits were sure to protect their turf. People would die when the trees fell. But no one died. Rather, many of the cultists found life in Christ and joined the people whose God was able to triumph over their idols. I love the confidence in Christ our brothers and sisters in the majority world show!
Some idols are fashioned in stone, and others are forged in our hearts (Ezekiel 14:3-5 ), but all of them, without exception, must be mown down like trees in a sacred grove.
Joost Nixon has worked in pastoral ministry for many years. He helped start a pastoral training school in Polokwane, South Africa, and has planted churches and pastored in the NW. He holds an M. Div from the Master’s Seminary and a D. Min. from Covenant Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Kristen, have eight children. He currently works with Training Leaders International planting and nurturing pastoral training schools in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.