Encounters With Christ: The Odds Are In Our Favor
II Kings 6:8-17
I wish to read, for you, these words from the Old Testament book of 2 Kings. This is the Word of God:
“Now, the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, ‘I will set up my camp in such and such a place.’ Well, the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, ‘Beware of passing that place because the Arameans are going down there.’ So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again, Elisha warned the king so that he was on his guard in such places. This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, ‘Will you not tell me which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?’ ‘None of us, my lord, the king,’ said one of his officers. But Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom. ‘Go and find out where he is,’ the king ordered, ‘So I can send men and capture him.’ The report came back ‘he is in Dothan.’ Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city, ‘Oh, my lord. What shall we do?’ the servant asked. ‘Do not be afraid,’ the prophet answered, ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘Oh, Lord. Open his eyes so that he may see.’ And then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked, and he saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.
Pray with me, please.
Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest, just give me Jesus. Amen.
On the 17th day of August 1967, I was ordained into the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. And as a result, for 46 years now, I have been engaged in what I believe to be the greatest adventure that anyone can know in this life, and that is the pursuit of the gospel ministry of Jesus Christ. And now, wonder of wonders, the capstone of that great adventure has occurred in God’s calling me to serve Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, providing a bridge between the remarkable ministry of Dave Peterson and the promising ministry of that person whom God has already chosen for this place. And during my time at MDPC, one great undeniable truth has become crystal clear. It is this, “God has His powerful hand upon this church.” And that can be clearly seen today as we celebrate the remarkable outreach ministry of this church into the city and into the world. And as we rededicate to God’s glory this magnificent and holy space, therefore, on this bright new day in the life of this church, I wish to share with you a word from Scripture, a word from my mind, and a word from my heart.
A word from Scripture.
In the Old Testament book of 2 Kings, we are told that the Syrians, under the leadership of their king, a man named Benhadad, the Syrians were engaged in war with Israel. My, oh, my, oh, my. Sometimes, it seems that things never change. But in the Old Testament story, we are told that the Syrians, as they prosecuted this war with Israel, engaged in the military tactic of guerrilla warfare. That is to say, the Syrian forces would swoop down upon Israel with sudden surprise attacks. They would kill as many Israelites as they could, as quickly as they could, and then just as quickly, they would retreat back into their own country.
For a time, the tactic proved devastatingly effective. But then, suddenly, everything changed. Suddenly, it seemed that the secret plans of the Syrians were known in advance by the Israelites so that when the Syrians attacked, the Israelites were ready, armed, and prepared for them.
King Benhadad began to suspect that there had to be a traitor in his ranks. He called his most trusted advisors together, and they counseled him, “Your majesty, ” they said, “There is no traitor among us. What is happening is that down in Israel, there is a man of God, and this man of God lives so close to God that he actually knows your thoughts as you think them, and he then tells the Israelites what you are planning to do.” Well, Benhadad was angry. He cried out, “Where is this man of God, Elisha?” And they said to him, “He lives in the city of Dothan.”
King Benhadad, then, ordered the Syrian forces, by force, to march through the night to descend upon Dothan, to surround the place, and to capture Elisha, the man of God. As a result, the next morning, when Elisha’s young assistant stepped out of the house where they were staying, he was shocked to see a Syrian army surrounding the place. Panicked, he rushed back inside and he cried out to Elisha, “Master, there’s a whole army out there. What are we going to do? We haven’t got a chance. The odds are stacked against us.” Elisha very calmly replied, “Do not be afraid. Actually, the odds are in our favor. You see, there are more with us than there are with them.” And then Elisha prayed that God might somehow open the eyes of his young assistant so that he might truly see. And sure enough, God answered the prayer. The young assistant, then, looked up, still saw the Syrian army there, yes, but surrounding the Syrian army, an infinitely greater army, rank upon rank upon rank of angels and archangels and chariots of fire. Nothing less than the Host of Almighty God had come to the aid of Elisha. And by the power of this great spiritual army of God, Elisha won the victory. It’s one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament. And that’s the word of Scripture that I wish to share with you today.
A word from my mind.
As I have sought in my mind to try to analyze this great story of Elisha, I have become convinced that the real secret of Elisha’s wisdom and power was the fact that Elisha had been called by God, and he knew it. Just recently, I searched the Scriptures. I studied carefully 22 different instances where people were called by God. And I noted that in every instance, without fail, the Holy Spirit of God was active, powerful, and personal in delivering the call. And I noted, in every instance, without fail, the people being called knew that they were being called by God. And they knew it beyond any shadow of a doubt. Mark this down. No one ever becomes a true prophet of God, a true preacher of the Gospel, a true leader of the church, a true disciple of Jesus Christ without experiencing something of the call of the Holy Spirit of God.
Now, I think it’s important for us to remember that God does call different people at different times. Some are called early in life. Alexander Maclaren, the great Scottish preacher, could not remember a single day in his whole life when he did not feel specially called to the ministry. Thomas Chalmers was actually just five years old when he received the call. You know what he did? He used to line his toys up and preach to them. Sometimes, the call comes early in life. Sometimes, it comes later. Jeremy Taylor was a barber before he became a minister. John Henry Jowett was a law clerk. Phillips Brooks was a school teacher. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a physician. Before ever there came to them the call to be the prophet of God. In the Bible, Samuel was called as a little boy. Isaiah was called as a young man. Moses is called in the full maturity of his years. The call comes to different people at different times. And the call comes to different people in different ways. Sometimes, the call comes in dramatic fashion. Paul, of course, is the best known Biblical example of that.
But I’m thinking today of the call of Peter Mackenzie, the great Methodist preacher in England. This is a true story. Peter Mackenzie, early in his life, toyed with the idea, maybe, of becoming a preacher, but he categorically rejected it because he was simply terrified to stand in front of people and speak. And so his life took a whole another direction. Some years later, there was a little rural Methodist church not very far from where Peter Mackenzie lived. That little church was desperate to have someone come and fill their pulpit on a particular Sunday. And so they issued an invitation to Peter Mackenzie to come and fill the pulpit on that Sunday. In a moment of weakness, feeling very sorry for this little church, Peter Mackenzie accepted the invitation.
However, on the appointed Sunday, Peter Mackenzie was so filled with terror that he actually climbed up into the attic of his house to hide hoping that no one would ever find him. And while he was there, three men came to the front door of the house and knocked. Those three men have been sent from that little church to escort Peter Mackenzie back to the church in order to preach. Well, in sheer desperation, Peter Mackenzie then did what he never counseled anyone else to do and what I would never counsel anyone else to do. He flipped open his Bible, put his finger in the air, stuck it down on the page, and read where his finger was pointing. His finger was pointing to Acts 10:19. This is what he read—now, remember, his name is Peter Mackenzie. Acts 10:19, “While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit of God said to him, ‘Peter, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them for I have sent them.'” Oh, now, that’s a dramatic call.
Now, not always is the call so dramatic. Sometimes, it’s much more subtle. Sometimes, it’s like a deep inner conviction where something, or better yet, someone lays hold of your heart and captures your soul and compels obedience and catches hold of your life and just will not let you go. That, actually, more accurately describes my own sense of call. But here’s the point, God calls different people at different times in different ways. But always, always, there is that sense of call. No one becomes a true prophet of God or a true leader in the church or a true disciple of Jesus Christ without experiencing the call of the Holy Spirit of God. Elisha had that kind of call. He knew that he had been called by God, chosen by God. He knew that he was important to God and to God’s work in the world. That’s why he could say and know it would be true. He could say, “There are more with us than there are with them.”
Let me tell you something. That is a word the church of Jesus Christ needs to hear today. For make no mistake, the church of Jesus Christ is under attack in our time. The church is being attacked by those outside the church. Those who deride and degrade the church’s Biblical morality. Those who have little or no regard for the Lord’s way or even the Lord’s day. The church is being attacked by those inside the church. Those who place a greater weight on the values of the culture than on the validity of God’s Word. Those who choose the expediency of politics over the sacredness of human life. Yes, the church is under attack in our time. And therefore, we need to know the truth. And here is the truth. Yes, the church is surrounded by those seeking to destroy it just like Elisha of old. But just like Elisha of old, I look through eyes of belief in God and I see what is true. The church of Jesus Christ is God’s church and nothing less than the spiritual armies of God surround the church. So I do not fear for the church. The odds are in our favor. There are more with us than there are with them.
I do not fear for the church, not so long as the church stands as a pillar of truth in the midst of a world filled with deception. Not so long as the church exalts the name of Jesus Christ, the saint yesterday, today, and forever. Not so long as the church declares that the Christ who died was raised from the dead and that He will come again. And when he comes again, His glory will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. I do not fear for the church for the odds are in our favor. There are more with us than there are with them. And I do not fear for this church either.
Here we gather in this holy place made holy by the Spirit of God. Here we gather as a congregation inspired and empowered by the God-ordained leadership of David Peterson. Here we gather as the people of God knowing full well that we stand tall and true and united in Jesus Christ. And therefore, we can say, “The odds are in our favor. There are more with us than there are with them.”
Oh, I want you to remember those words. I want you to carry them in your heart. And in order to help us do that, I want you to say those words right out loud with me now. Say it. There are more with us than there are with them. Say it again. There are more with us than there are with them. What do we say in the face of any challenge? There are more with us than there are with them. What do we say in the face of any obstacle? There are more with us than there are with them. What do we say in the face of any opposition? There are more with us than there are with them. Yes, there are more with us than there are with them.
I know that’s true. God Almighty, Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts has called me into His ministry, and His Holy Spirit has been strengthening that call for 46 years. I know it’s true. I’ve lived it. I’ve experienced it. I know it’s true. The odds are in our favor. There are more with us. Yes, there are more with us than there are with them.
A word from my heart.
I love mountains. I’ve been blessed to see many great mountains in my life. I’ve seen Austria’s Hohe Tauern rising in fearsome beauty above the romantic streets of the village of Innsbruck. I’ve seen Switzerland’s Mont Blanc seeming to touch the sky, so majestic but so deadly. I’ve seen Mount Mitchell towering above America’s Blue Ridge. I’ve seen Mount Rainier and Mount Hood. Their snow capped peaks angled by a bright summer sun. I’ve seen Israel’s Mount Hermon whose snowy heights provide the headwaters for the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. I’ve seen Fujiyama jutting up out of the soil of Japan and into the imagination of all who behold its regal beauty. I love mountains.
I suppose that’s why a recent article in the Wall Street Journal so captured my attention. The article was about mountain climbing, not just ordinary mountain climbing, but climbing the highest peaks on the face of the earth, those peaks which stand higher than 26,000 feet. There are 14 of those peaks in the world. The best known, of course, is Mount Everest. But the deadliest of those 14 peaks is a Himalayan peak known as Annapurna, 26,575 feet high. Nearly half of all the people who have tried to climb Annapurna have perished in the effort. It’s the deadliest of those great peaks. Back in 1950, two Frenchmen, Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal, became the first two people ever to make it to the summit of Annapurna and survive. They later wrote about their harrowing journey. It’s called Annapurna. That book is the bestselling mountain climbing book ever written.
What I found fascinating was that Herzog and Lachenal—they said that when they reached the summit of Annapurna, what moved them the most was not a sense of accomplishment that they’d made it, not even the nature or the spectacular view that was stretched out before them. No. They said what moved them most profoundly was that there on the summit of Annapurna, they felt a deep sense of closeness to God. And they went on to say that that sense of closeness to God born at the summit of Annapurna had never ever left them. I cannot climb mountains like Annapurna. But I do know what it is to climb the mountain of service to Jesus Christ. I know what it is to be called by the Holy Spirit of God into the gospel ministry. I know what it is to climb higher and higher in the spirit until the air becomes so thin, you can hardly breathe. I know what it is to scale and scramble and climb and claw to the highest peaks of service to Jesus Christ that you can know. And I know what it is to feel so close to God there that all you see is the Lord and His angels surrounding you. That has been my life’s experience and my great adventure for 46 years now.
And what I long for and hope for and pray for is that you and you and you and you that you will, in your own life, climb the mountain of service to Jesus Christ. And what I long for and hope for and pray for is that we, in this church, will continue to scale and scramble and climb and claw our way to the very highest peaks of service to Jesus Christ that we can know. And what I want us always to remember is this, we need never be afraid of any obstacle, any challenge, any opposition, any persecution. Why? Because the odds are in our favor. There are more with us than there are with them. We are surrounded by nothing less than the Host of Almighty God.
There are more with us than there are with them. And by the power of that great spiritual army of God, we shall win the victory through Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.