Alfred Place Baptist Church

6:17 The sword of the Spirit

Ephesians 6:17 “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

It is often pointed out that with this piece of armour we pass from the Christian’s defence to the one piece weaponry designed by God for attacking his enemies. There is a proverb to the effect that attack is the best form of defence, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Christian life. If we don’t take the battle to the enemy they’ll think we’ve hung up the white flag. They will start dictating to us, and we’ll develop a perennial ‘damage limitation’ mentality. In fact it is only when you go onto the front line of Christian service and start wielding the sword that you truly appreciate the rest of your armour. For example, you find yourself increasingly trusting in the Lord to help you, that is, you are taking the shield of faith. The other pieces of armour are all protecting you as you swing and thrust with your sword; without the sword you can put on all the armour but you’re going to be defeated. For victory you have to use the sword of the Spirit. The word for sword is machaira, and it is the short handled sword used in close encounters with the enemy. Paul tells us that this weapon is the word of God. The apostle is not talking about the sword of our own spirits; he is talking about God the Holy Spirit.

1. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS GOD.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny this truth, as do the Mormons, but it is very clearly taught in the Scriptures. For example in the Old Testament what is said of Jehovah God is also said of the Spirit of God. The expressions “God said” and “the Spirit said” are repeatedly interchanged. The activity of the Holy Spirit is said to be the activity of God. In Isaiah 6 the prophet describes his vision of God high and lifted up, his train filling the temple. Isaiah says, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go and tell this people . . .” (Is. 6:8&9). Isaiah heard the Lord’s voice telling him to go and tell the people, but Paul actually quotes this text in Acts 28:25 and he says, “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people and say . . .” What the Lord says the Holy Spirit says; what the Holy Spirit says the Lord says. There is no change in identity whatsoever; the Lord is God; the Holy Spirit is God.

Again, the apostle tells us that believers are the temple of God for this reason, because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. In I Corinthians 3:16 Paul declares, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” God’s temple is the place where God lives, but Paul explains this by the fact that “God’s Spirit” dwells in us, and so he equates God’s Spirit with God himself.

Again, in Acts 5:3&4 we read, “Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’” According to Peter’s words to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God.

Again the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is everywhere, that is, he is omnipresent. David says in Psalm 139:7-10, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” The presence of the Holy Spirit is identified with the presence of God. Where the Spirit is, there God is. A fugitive cannot run and hide somewhere where God is absent. The Holy Spirit is simply everywhere; he is ubiquitous. This is an attribute that belongs to the being of God. An angel is not everywhere; an archangel is only in one place at one time, but the Spirit of God is not bound by space and time. He is called the “eternal Spirit” and he is also omnipresent. There is nowhere that David can flee from the Spirit of God.

Again, the Spirit knows everything, in other words he is omniscient. To underline this we’re not told that the Spirit knows my heart and my inmost thoughts, but that he knows everything about God. In I Corinthians 2:10&11 Paul says these words, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no-one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” There are no secret corners in God that the Spirit knows nothing about. There are no no-go areas in the Godhead out of bounds to the Spirit. God doesn’t keep a single secret from him. The Spirit goes in and in and in and into God, even the deep things of God. He knows the infinite and immeasurable God exhaustively.

Again, the Spirit is the Creator. He is there at creation; “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” He is not spectating he is active because the Psalmist says, “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (Ps. 104:30), and the patriarch Job says, “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). He creates, indeed the Spirit’s greatest of all creatorial roles was his overshadowing of the virgin Mary so that the Son of God was begotten in her womb, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35).

Again, the Spirit raises the dead. “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Roms. 8:11).

Again, the Spirit is the agent of a sinner’s regeneration. If you are a real Christian, in other words, if you have been born again it is solely because of God the Holy Spirit. In John 3:5-8 the Lord Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

So here is the Spirit of God and he is divine. We’ve learned that what he says, God says. We are God’s temple because the Spirit of God dwells in us. To lie against him is to lie against God. He is omnipresent, eternal and omniscient. He does things God alone can do, creating, resurrecting, and regenerating, but the Bible says that there is only one God. It does not say that there is one being who is immeasurably superior and wiser and better than all others. It says that there is one beside whom there is absolutely nothing. If the Holy Spirit is not God, then far from the God of the Bible being unique, eternally alone, and matchless in all his perfections, there is at least one creature to whom belong all the attributes whereby God can be distinguished and marked out. He lacks nothing that the one living God is and has. That is the end of the unity of God. The Holy Spirit is a second god, and the chief rival and adversary on earth to the blessed and only Potentate.

So how did these strictly monotheistic Jewish Christians who had become apostles and were inspired to write the New Testament handle this? They hated idolatry and feared polytheism; they believed that God was one, and yet they believed that Jesus Christ was God and they believed that the Holy Spirit was God. How could you reconcile God being one with God being three persons? They did not know the answer and so we do not know, but they affirm that the Father is God, and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and these three are one God. They were good disciples of the Lord Jesus, because they obeyed him when he told them to go into all the world and baptize men and women “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). One name; three persons. The Holy Spirit is placed there on the same level as the Father and the Son. How unthinkable it would have been for Jesus to say something like, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the archangel Michael,” or “ . . . and of the apostle Peter.” That would lift a mere creature up and put him on the same plane as the Creator. Or again there is the benediction at the end of II Corinthians, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (II Cors. 13:14). The three members of the Godhead are all conjoined in that benediction. It would be utterly unacceptable for Paul to add his name to that of the Father and of the Son, but completely acceptable to join these three persons who comprise the one God. So the Bible teaches, ONE, that God is three persons; TWO, that the Holy Spirit is fully God as much as the Father and the Son; THREE, that there is one God. In God you have infinite unity combined with distinct persons. The Father alone is Father; the Son alone died on Calvary ; the Spirit alone is sent by Father and Son to save and sanctify the people of God.

Now you may think that all this is rather academic, or theological, or abstract, but we are talking about the only God there is. Your God; your Creator and your Judge. We are talking about the God who is willing to become your Saviour and your Sanctifier. We are talking about the God you can know and love and must worship. Who is he? If you make a mistake about the nature of God can you know yourself properly? It will hamper your serving him. He is a person. We are told that the Holy Spirit can be grieved. You cannot grieve computers or the wind or electricity but you can grieve a person, and who wants to grieve as vital a helper as him? The Holy Spirit can be quenched and wouldn’t be terrified of quenching his influence in our lives? Can you, little man, face the future trusting in your own wits? Can we face a future with the Holy Spirit outside our fellowship standing at the door and knocking for admission? God forbid. Then let us not drive him away by grieving him. Let us not attribute to him activities and ideas that are not his at all but the engineering of the flesh of men. So let us honour the Holy Spirit as very God of very God.

You might think that my teaching on the deity of the Spirit of God is irrelevant but let me respond by reminding you again of a certain incident in the ministry of a man I know. One Monday night a church member called him and she was almost whispering as she talked. “Where does it say in the Bible that the Holy Spirit is God?” she asked. He gave her some of the verses that I have given to you tonight, and then he asked her why she was whispering. She said, “I have a Jehovah’s Witness here in the kitchen and he is winning the argument.” He mildly protested to her, “But I preached a message to you only last night on the deity of the Holy Spirit.” “Yes I know,” she said apologetically, “but I didn’t know I needed it then.” When she came onto the field of service and began talking of her faith in God to someone else she realised that she needed to know the Bible’s teaching on the Trinity. So it will be with you. You might think that this teaching is for egg-heads and not for ordinary Christians, but then start talking about your faith to others and you will see that you need to know everything that God has taken such pains to tell us. The Holy Spirit is God.

2. THE SPIRIT OF GOD HAS A SWORD.

It is not that we are saying, “Wouldn’t it be good if God gave us a weapon to stand in our day and face our enemies and gain some victories for him.” We are not dreaming about a supreme weapon. We are not saying, “If only we had the weapon that Whitefield and Edwards and Spurgeon had when they turned the world upside down.” We have the same weapon the Lord Jesus used and that Peter had on Pentecost. Our failure is not due to lack of armament but of using the weapon God is offering us.

God has a weapon, and you might imagine that it must be bolts of lightening, or magic words that can heal the sick or raise the dead, or nuclear power. No it is not, because the sword of the Spirit is the word of God. It is the Bible which belongs to the Spirit’s by right of creation, and right of inspiration. The Holy Spirit produced it; the Holy Spirit guides us in how to use it, and the Holy Spirit also energizes it making it alive and effective. Where did the Bible come from? Scripture “never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:21). The Holy Spirit shaped this sword. All Scripture is God-breathed. To what extent did the divine inspiration go? To the jots and tittles says Christ. Brilliant creative men were not responsible for the beauty and power of the Bible. All of its brilliance is due to the Spirit of God fashioning their thinking and writing. The rough simplicity of Mark, the unconscious yet splendid eloquence of Paul, the conscious literary art of the epistle to the Hebrews, the high poetry of the prophets and psalmists – all those styles was shaped by the influence of the Spirit of God molding, educating, preparing and guiding these men so that they wrote precisely what they did write. Exactly how God did this, carrying them along until the word was committed to writing, we don’t know, but we do know that the Spirit did this over a period of some fifteen hundred years in about thirty distinct individuals who wrote these sixty-six books. Yet there is a striking unity pervading them all. That is because it was the one Spirit who was the originator of it all, and so the weapon offered us is God’s word not our word. Scripture is described by a variety of metaphors in the Bible, like a light to our feet, or food for our souls. It has a cleansing, washing influence like the purest water showering us. It is more valuable than much fine gold. It is sweeter to the taste than the honeycomb. It is as nourishing as milk from a mother’s breast.

However, none of those metaphors is used by Paul here. “It is the Spirit’s sword,” he says. You think of how it is pictured in the book of Revelation in that vision of Christ revealed to John on Patmos . The word of God is like “a sharp double-edged sword” coming out of the mouth of Christ (Rev. 1:16). You consider how the writer of the Hebrews speaks of it, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebs. 4:12). What David said about Goliath’s sword can be applied to the Bible; “There is none like it.” It is the incomparable book.

How shall we describe the manufacture of God’s sword? It was designed before the dawn of history and finally fashioned in the red hot heat of Golgotha . Its conclusion is after the ending of all possible human records. What makes it so superb a weapon? It is as strong and pure as the God who made it, whose life runs right through it. His names, his grace, his words, and his deeds are found from its point to its handle. Man by searching cannot find a sword like this. Such knowledge is too lofty for man to acquire by his own efforts. It is a gift of God to his loved ones. A man could not have designed such an ultimate weapon as this even if he would, and he would not if he could. Nowhere in the whole range of weaponry is so much glorious power compressed into one unit; there is no other weapon which has been formed actually to give life, and to heal and to resurrect as this sword of God.

3. LET US TAKE THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT.

Do you know the power of the sword that God has given us? Do you know what mighty victories it has already won? Do you know that not only Daniel Rowland, and Martin Luther and Chysostom used that sword before passing it along to us, but that this weapon is the very same sword Jesus used? To know the value of this sword and to learn how to use it, we should see how master swordsmen have used it.

i] In overcoming Satan.

Just before Jesus began his public min­istry, he faced Satan directly. Before he healed others and freed them from demons and brought God’s loving reign into their lives, Jesus first had his own showdown with the evil one. Before he helped anyone else, Jesus first proved that he himself could stand up against Satan’s temptations and defeat him. How did he succeed? By using the sword of the Spirit. With the Holy Spirit in his heart and the Word of God on his lips, Jesus defeated the devil:

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit . . . was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man does not live on bread alone.”’
“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”’
“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “He will command his angels con­cerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered, ‘It says: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an oppor­tune time” (Luke 4:1-13)

David Feddes says, “Jesus slashed apart Satan’s temptations by using God’s Word, the sword of the Spirit. When Satan tempted Jesus to misuse miraculous powers for selfish purposes and to put bodily desires over his relationship to his heavenly Father, Jesus struck back with, ‘It is written.’ When Satan offered Jesus a pain-free path to power, telling him he could bypass God’s way of suffering to reclaim the world and, instead, simply honour Satan in­stead of the heavenly Father, Jesus struck back with, ‘It is written.’ Finally Satan tried to use Scripture itself against Jesus, tempting him to take a suicidal leap and see if biblical promises of angel protection were really true. But the Bible is not the sword of Satan; it’s the sword of the Spirit. Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, knew right away that Satan was misusing Scripture, and Jesus struck back by quoting the biblical truth that really fit the situation: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

“All three of Jesus’ quotes were from the book of Deuteronomy. Some of us hardly know that part of the Bible, but Jesus knew it. Because Jesus knew Scripture so well and used it in the wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit, he could recognize what was wrong with Satan’s temptations and could slash them to pieces. When the Bible says the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil, I’ve sometimes wondered why the Spirit would put Jesus in such a position. But I’ve learned that the Spirit did it not to endanger Jesus but to deal a blow to Satan and make Jesus most effective in bringing God’s kingdom to others by first winning his own personal battle against Satan.

“If you are a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus, some­times the Spirit will do something similar with you: he will lead you into a desert of difficulty and temptation, not to put your soul at risk but to deal a blow to Satan, and to make you most effective in bringing God’s kingdom to others by winning your own battle against Satan. If you take God’s armour as your protection and the sword of the Spirit as your ultimate weapon, you can keep driving Satan back. Jesus, the master swordsman, has beaten Satan and has shown us how it’s done. Now he puts the sword in our hand and directs us to use it in the strength of the Holy Spirit

“When you use the sword of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit may lead you into some hard sit­uations, just as he led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan. But the reason he may do that sometimes is to help you prove your strength and grow toward maturity. I read about a tribe in which a boy would be considered a man when he was 13 years old. On the night of his 13th birthday, they would blindfold the boy and lead him far into the forest. When the blindfold was removed, the boy would find himself alone in total darkness, where he would spend the night. There in the dark, he might hear the howl of a wolf, the growl of a bear, the snarl of a mountain lion. He might hear twigs cracking and branches snapping nearby and not know what sort of danger was approach­ing. Then, as dawn got closer and the light increased, he’d begin to see the green of leaves and the colour of flowers. And soon he would see something else: a strong man, a heavily armed warrior, standing guard a short distance away. Then he’d recognize that it was his father, who’d been there all along, ready to defend his son from any dan­gers that lurked in the dark. The boy became a man by experiencing and enduring the danger, but even as a man, he was not alone. He had a guard and defender.

“You may go through something similar. You may feel alone, surrounded by the pow­ers of darkness. That can be scary, but it can also be an opportunity for greater maturity. As the Bible says, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). But even as you grow stronger, more mature, more skilled in using your sword, the Holy Spirit is right there—beside you and within you. That’s all the more reason to live with confi­dence and to fight with confidence. The Spirit not only gives you the ultimate wea­pon; he himself is the ultimate friend and defender.” (The Radio Pulpit, from the Back to God Hour, September 2003, “The Ultimate Weapon, pp.7-9). There is another way in which we use the sword of the Spirit.

ii] In preaching the gospel.

Consider Peter on the day of Pentecost, filled with the Spirit of God. Thousands of people are bursting with questions pressing in on Peter from all sides because of what they’ve seen and heard. In Acts 2 Peter is explaining things to the people – an outside alternative community is asking the questions and the church is answering, but the response is not being dictated by the world’s agenda. It is not that Peter is taking advantage of the discussion in Jerusalem about an unusual recent long eclipse, or the misbehaviour of the Roman governor Pilate, and that then he moves on to speak about Jesus of Nazareth. There are not two answers here, as if Peter made a contribution about a current hot topic and then went on to speak about Christ. The church often does that – gives its answer to a contemporary question on moral or ecological or political issues and then tags on the gospel. Something divine has happened within the congregation of Christ and this is creating the question. “What is happening with these followers of Jesus? What is the Spirit doing in the church?”

Of course there were unique elements present, but the pattern itself is not unusual. There is an aroused and curious world which wants answers when the Spirit is working in men’s lives. Whenever the world sees transformed people it will ask, “What is going on?” In fact Peter was to exhort them years later in his first letter to be ready to give a response with meekness when the world asks them about hope – and they were being persecuted. What does Peter do at the feast of Pentecost? It is fascinating to see what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t get the Christian women and men one by one to come to the front and tell their own experiences of the risen Christ. He doesn’t stand up and describe for them what it felt like to be filled with the Spirit – the tingles going up and down his spine, the warm glow, and the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. They certainly don’t sing to the crowd.

Peter preached a sermon to them, and at the end of that day the crowd didn’t go home debating Peter’s words. A man didn’t return home to his wife and say, “Do you know that I saw something very unusual in Jerusalem today? There were certain of our Jewish men speaking in the languages of the Gentile pilgrims visiting the city. Very odd. There was a terrible wind, and fire seemed to pour out of these men’s heads – but they weren’t burned. Some of our men described them as being drunk but one of them called Peter acquitted himself very well, I thought, in the debate they had afterwards. Anyway Jerusalem TV was there recording it all and it’s bound to be on the local news in five minutes so let’s watch it.” So the family sat and watched the whole thing. “Well, what do you think kids? I think Peter got the upper hand. I’m voting for him. What do you think wife? Undecided? Well, kids, it’s bed time and off you go; I’m going to have an early night tonight. It’s been quite a day.” So they all went to bed.

It was not at all like that. The voting buzzers were not under every seat. It was not that the accusation of drunkenness was made, and then Peter defended it and the crowd all made a decision for one or another and they drifted off home. It was not like that at all. Peter never allowed them, for a moment, to think that he was on trial and that they had to vote for or against him. Peter was not in the dock; they were in the dock and God was judging them. They were the ones under the sword, not Peter. He was wielding it powerfully as he stood before them. Peter tells them, “This is the Day of Jehovah; he has exalted Jesus whom you crucified. He rose; we saw him and now you have to deal with God his Father. This is the beginning of the end, the heat of the Day of the Lord is upon us already. All that you see and hear has to do with the Jesus you killed.” The heart of Peter’s message is this objective historical event of Golgotha and resurrection.

His message was not about tingles. The sword Peter wielded was the truth in terms of historical events. Our age is experience oriented, and preachers are saying, “What Jesus did for me he can do for you.” Is that the gospel? The prosperity ‘gospel’ has that message. Of course we recognise that there can be great transformation when a gospel comes into a community – families are sorted out, men are gainfully employed and now that there is a regular pay packet children are washed and fed and educated. When a gospel comes to a community it is good news, but to say that the message of the gospel is “believing it changes your life” is simply the prosperity gospel by the back door.

What is Acts chapter two? It is a sermon full of quotations from the Old Testament. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God. Peter is explaining the person and work of Jesus in the light of Scripture. Psalm 16 is quoted by Peter declaring to them that Jesus was the genuinely righteous man. The Nazarene they crucified was really a man after God’s own heart, through and through – all his hope and strength and delight was in God always and only. Such a man cannot be abandoned to the grave, as the man of Psalm 16 was. Jesus of Nazareth is the real king, the authentic Christ. He is greater than David. Here is the man of Psalm 16; that prophecy could not have been fulfilled in David because we have his tomb until today. David was a sinning man who yet found his delight in the Lord, but there was no dud factor with sinless Jesus, and he is the one pouring out the Spirit – what you both see and hear. We are now in these end times, and Jesus is the authentic godly man. He is the mighty Christ and the archetypal man; more of a man than we have ever been. Peter is meditating on this theme.

Peter continues to wield the sword in terms of the future work of the Lord Jesus in the light of the OT. He brings in another scripture from Psalm 110. Christ is the true man who delights in God, but also the authentic warrior king more fearful than David. His enemies are God’s enemies and the wrath of God comes through him and the agency of wrath is by him. So Peter’s hearers have Psalm 110 running through their heads. These two familiar psalms are vividly bringing to bear on them this image of the Son of God.

To use the sword of the Spirit results in splattered blood, and the two psalms most quoted in the New Testament are Psalms 2 and 110, which are amongst the most blood curdling. The Lord will bring all to submission. He will make his enemies his footstool. When he comes he will destroy his enemies and Peter is confronting his hearers with this reality. Peter is courteous, but he is not polite, not trying to skirt around giving any offence. He is very blunt indeed. He is a good solider of Jesus Christ. The issue he brings up again and again is that they are the ones who killed Jesus. He is thrusting the sword home into their hearts again and again and he won’t stop. He is passionately proclaiming their guilt. “Do you see what Psalm 16 means? Therefore let all Israel be assured that this Jesus is Lord and Christ, and you have killed this Son of God.” Peter is not afraid to thrust the sword in up to its hilt; “you are the enemies of God, not the Romans, but you who loved the thought and promise of the coming mighty Messiah – yes, he came and you killed him. You murdered the one you were waiting for, and now he is on the warpath. He is looking for you.”

What an impact this preaching made on them! They cried aloud in their thousands, “What shall we do?” The appeal was not made from Peter to them, urging them again and again to come to the front. The appeal came from them to Peter, and they were in panic because they had murdered God’s beloved one, the one who created the universe. Who could have a worse enemy? What could they do when their appalling guilt was going to meet omnipotent justice? “Who will help me against my adversary? To whom can we go? Is there some great name I can appeal to? Who will plead my case? Who will protect me from the terrible day of wrath? Who can we go to?”

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ,” says Peter. In the same name there is forgiveness and shelter. There is full inclusion in this community. The murdered one offers forgiveness for murdering him to his very murderers. The biggest problem for the world is Jesus. He is the mighty ruler who will condemn men. What shall they do? In this Jesus Christ is found forgiveness; it is even for the sin of killing the Messiah. What love is shown, that those who killed the mighty wrathful ruler receive total pardon in him.

The sword Peter wielded was the sword of judgment. The matter of preaching judgment and being under judgment and being delivered from judgment should be considered by all preachers. What pressure we preachers are under to avoid any form of confrontation with men and women in the name of love. Of course we need to speak the truth in love, but we need to come back to this New Testament declaration of the gospel again and again. Wield the sword as Peter wielded it! Real love does not keep its mouth shut when there is danger. Love makes every effort to save from sin and death and hell. Love also speaks of wonderful forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our greatest need is for the church to be really convicted afresh of sin, righteousness and judgment to come. No one can truly speak with conviction unless there is conviction within. The great need of the church is that the people of God look forward to his coming on tip toe and so they wiled the sword of the Spirit today.

iii] In personal witness.

There is a striking example of personal witness in Acts 24 and verses 24 to the end of the chapter. Notice how Paul wields the sword of the Spirit as he speaks with Felix; “Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’ At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favour to the Jews, he left Paul in prison”.

Paul talked to them about entrusting themselves to Christ Jesus (v.24). How did he show the urgency of this? He began by showing them how righteous God is, and that God loves righteousness, and that there isn’t a man, king or commoner, who is righteous, no not one. What a problem; there is a great gulf fixed between us and God. But Paul went on to speak to them about self-control; Drusilla was a ravishing beauty on account of which Felix, with the assistance of a magician from Cyprus, had seduced her from her husband and taken her for himself. She became Felix’s third wife, and so confronting them Paul spoke about self-control, but that was not the end of what he said. He addressed them with the theme of the last judgment, that it is appointed unto men and women once to die and after death the judgment. He thrust the sword into the lives of these two three times. He didn’t think in terms of the benefits the Christian church would gain by having a king and queen as its members and so lowered the divine requirements and made it easy for them to become Christians. The thought never entered his head. He told them of their own need to entrust themselves for forgiveness of sins to Jesus Christ alone. That is using the sword of the Spirit in personal witness.

Paul convinces us that we don’t need to find and adopt a peculiar and intricate system of apologetics before we start to present the gospel. He went right ahead assuming that Felix know about the being of God, and the nature of sin. He held it as a presupposition that Felix, and all unbelievers, have some awareness of the existence of God, and they still have a conscience. Paul knew that Felix could easily understand his obligation to God. He took out his sword; his approach was direct, incisive and powerful. He knew man’s make-up as a creature of God, fallen indeed, but a creature that cannot escape the God “who is out there.”

I have told you about my friend Henry Krabbendam witnessing to a young man for three months and getting nowhere. Finally he went to his house. He went in the front door and through the living room where a group of disreputable men sat around and into the bedroom where the man was lying. He began to talk to him. “I really laid it on him,” Henry said. “I never laid it on anyone the way I laid it on him there. Finally after ten minutes the man shouted at me, ‘You’re trying to tell me that I’m some kind of sinner?’ That’s what I’ve been telling you for the past three months,” Henry said. “Oh,” replied the man crestfallenly.

“I’d been playing with him,” said Henry. “I’d been putting on a display of sword play, and he had enjoyed the cut and thrust, and then I used the word of the Spirit as I should. The next Sunday he was in church and I was preaching a series on the ten commandments. I had reached the fourth commandment on remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy. I said in the course of the sermon, ‘Don’t tell me you have any hunger for God if you come to church just on Sunday mornings.’ The man shrank in his seat because he had made up his mind that day that from then on he would give God an hour on Sunday mornings, and the first thing God told him was that that was meagre! God was worth more than that. So the man kept coming and was converted, and married a Christian girl in the congregation and they began a Christian home. It all started when Henry started to use the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

February 26 2006 GEOFF THOMAS