Now, there are two passages of scripture that I want us to read before we look at this vast subject of the problems here in Northern Ireland. Second Corinthians is our first passage of scripture, 2 Corinthians and chapter 5. Now let me say, before I begin, that I'm not going to make any moral or political judgements upon the situation here in Northern Ireland. So you'll not know what I am, in political persuasion, when you leave here this evening - that is not my purpose in looking at this subject. But I hope to analyse some facts for you in the light of the word of God, and then I want you to weigh up the judgement.
Second Corinthians chapter 5 and verse 19: "To know, that God was in Christ", meaning that when Jesus Christ came to the earth, He was God and God was in Him - what was God doing in Him? Look at it: "Reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation". Why did Christ come? He came into the world to reveal God. What was God doing? He was reconciling the world to Himself, not accrediting our sins to us. In other words: not putting our sins upon us, but putting our sins upon Himself, that is the word of reconciliation. Verse 20: "Now then we" - Christians - "are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray" - we plead - "you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him", Jesus Christ, "to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him". Remember that passage.
Now Ephesians 2, and we've been studying this passage recently in our Bible readings, Ephesians chapter 2 and verse 13. Ephesians 2 and verse 13: "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile", there's that word again, "both unto God in one body", watch this, "by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God".
Most people think that the subject of history is simply a matter of correlating and establishing accepted facts and figures, don't they? Learning dates of the kings and of the battles and everything like that - that is history, learning the Presidents of America, the Prime Ministers of Great Britain - and we have this concept that that is what history is: facts and figures. Now although history may involve that, certainly, history is much more than only that. And it's quite possible - and you may know this from studying history, perhaps at school or university - that you could go into a library in a university and take down two historical books, by two different historians, on the one time in history and you would get two different conclusions. That's so, because history is not simply about studying accepted facts and figures, but history involves interpretations.
People can look back a hundred years - and I heard recently, on Radio Four, them talking about a battle, hundreds of years ago, and trying to analyse the motives of the king that sought to win the battle. Why did he do it? What were the reasons behind it - motivating, politically, religiously, economically, socially within the nation - what drove him to that battle? Now there was only one fact that did it, but we don't know that. Therefore historians are looking back and they interpret, they're analysing, trying to look into it. So history is not exclusive, history is not absolute, but it is interpretive. Now that captures - if you want to think about it for a moment - that captures our problem here in Northern Ireland. We have the one history, we have the one island and the one nation here, but there are two different interpretations of the one history. And our difficulty in Ulster is: both of them are mutually exclusive. They're both historical opposites. One isn't simply a different shade of another, or just different in a couple of places, they both cancel one another out. They're exact opposites - we could say that they are enemies, ideologically speaking.
It goes even more than that because, as far as one side is concerned, the other side's wrong and they're right! Yet the other side say that they're wrong and we're right! And it goes further than the political realm because, if you go deeper, and deeper, and deeper into the interpretation of our history, you find that there are not only political differences and divisions, but there are religious ones and even moral ones. The unionists might say about the nationalists: 'His ideology is morally wrong'. The nationalists could say about the unionists: 'You are morally wrong for being a unionist' - that's the way, what happens in people's minds here. It is such a deep divide, it's such a deep scar that it goes beyond a political idea. It goes into the depths of religion, faith - the things that move men and women and make them live - and it even goes into the depths of morality, so that one party can say to another: 'You are wrong!'.
What a problem, but it's not unique to here - and I know there are times you could watch the news and read the newspaper and you'd think that Ulster was the only place that has these problems. I would vouch to say that probably every country, in smaller or greater levels, has this problem - because there are many ethnic conflicts in our world and all of them, all of them, feature these characteristics. And we in Northern Ireland are only one of many countries who have an ethnic, religious, political and cultural diversity to deal with.
They can't even agree as to when it all began! It's very difficult, in fact, to pinpoint the chronology of the whole thing - when the problems in Ulster began. Opinions differ, some would say [it was] the sixties when the troubles began. Some would go farther back to the twenties. Some would go to 1916. Others would go several hundred years to the Battle of the Boyne, or before it when Britain started mingling, and fiddling about in Irish affairs. And you have all these different ideas of when the thing began. So, if you have all those different ideas of when it began, you can be sure that you have many different ideas about what the answer is. Isn't that right? We're all agreed that we have a problem, that's accepted in face value. We only need to see empty seats, scarred lives, disabled police officers, ruined homes, reputations, blown up cities and towns - you can see it all around you. We can see the symptoms, but what is the problem at the depths of it all? And what is the answer that we have to give, or that anyone has to give? Now that's logic, because if you go to the doctor what he does is he looks at you physically and then he maybe looks in your mouth and so forth, and he's looking for symptoms. And by those symptoms - they're like a map that will guide him to the deeper problem that's within, and he can't see the problem within unless he opens you up. So he has to go by the symptoms that are at the outside and before he finds that he cannot deal with the problem, or treat and give a cure.
Now let's look at how our people, and our government and our politicians, have diagnosed and attempted to treat this problem in Ulster. What is their answer? Well, one answer - and I give you the first one - is this: conflict. Many have thought that conflict is the answer - mainly the terrorists. And terrorists have attempted to redress the imbalance as they see it - in other words, they want to solve the problem that they see to be the problem, with force and conflict. Republicans see the problem to be the forced British presence in Ireland against the will of the majority. The loyalist sees the problem to be the republicans, who want all the Brits out, including themselves - and therefore they are there to protect, and actively strive to crush republicanism. Then there's a third group that believe in force, and they are the law-abiding citizens - some of them. And they believe that the only way to solve this problem is by a campaign of force - the security forces - to eradicate all terrorism and all of the problem...the problem being the terrorists. So the republicans believe the problem is the British. The loyalists believe the problem is the republicans. And a lot of the law-abiding citizens want to wipe out the whole lot by force.
Now, the problem with these problem-solving measures is that they have all failed in solving the problem! Republicanism has not achieved their ideal of a 26 county Irish-Socialist Republic - and that's why, at this moment, they're in politics, they're in a cease-fire, to try and bring it about by politics. The loyalists have failed in stemming, as they see it, the tide of republicanism and terrorism in our land - and in fact, the influence of that movement, and the IRA itself, has grown greater and greater after years of loyalist conflict. The security option has failed in the past as well, and when the government and the security forces adopted a heavy hand on all the terrorist organisations - if I can turn scripture around a little bit - the blood of their martyrs was the seed of the organisations. Isn't that right? Their membership soared sky-high. What are we saying? Some people believe - in fact a lot of people believe - that conflict is the answer. Listen: conflict has been tried and has failed!
Then there's politics. Many of the hard men of the bomb and the bullet have changed, we often hear it said, to the ballot box. Why? Because they believe it is the way to solve their particular understanding of the problem. Now the difficulty - our difficulty - all began, arguably, with politics. Many would said that politics has got us in the predicament we're in - and if you think about it, politics has existed over the whole course of our problem for hundreds and hundreds of years, but it has never ever brought the answer to Ulster. Neither unionist nor nationalist ideologies, over all the years, has been able to bring the two factions genuinely together for time. Why? Because, as I've already said, they're mutually exclusive, they're opposites, chalk and cheese. You can't mix them, they want two, separate, different things - constitutionally they are different. And those parties that have tried to amalgamate the two of them fail. Sure the Alliance party can't even get an MP, because the two sections are so divided, and it's ingrained within the depths of their being that they cannot intermingle. They cannot come together and they will never come together under politics. You see the people who believe in a political solution do so because they believe that our problem is a political problem. Can I say: politics has been tried and has failed - and is still failing.
Thirdly, religion - and there's a wee band of people that believe: 'Get rid of the other religion, or turn them over to your side' - whether it's Roman Catholicism or dead Protestantism - 'get it out of the way, exterminate it. Ethnically cleanse that religious cult, or system, or people away from this land - and, once you get rid of all the other people, then the problem will be solved'. So they raise up religious orders, the orange, the black, the arch purple, the hibernians, or the legion of Mary - each distinctive - to hold, and designed to cultivate and to conserve the so-called 'faith' that you were born into. You see, some see it as a religious problem - and usually the problem is the other person's religion. Therefore they will do everything to preserve their own and everything to exterminate the other. Let me say this - and I say it from a church pulpit: religion has been tried and, boy, has it failed!
There's conflict, there's politics, there's religion, and fourthly there is reconciliation. In my short experience of hearing about places like Corrymeela and Rostrevor, they haven't changed the face of Ulster. Why is that? Because it doesn't matter how sincere, at the beginning, that thought of reconciliation is, or to how much an extent people have been trying to reconcile to one another: when something happens - you know what I mean, something magnanimous in a political scale, or there's a bomb, or there's a shooting, or there's some discrimination as one side sees it - all of a sudden those who are trying to be reconciled and reconciling others, their orange blood, or their green blood, boils up again. Isn't that right? And we're in the problem...and we begin to talk about 'your side' and 'the other side' and 'our side' - and all over the years of cross community work, we are still segregated in education, still segregated in housing and in ghettos, and even in our work places we are segregated. Why? Because reconciliation has tried and has failed.
Now, that tells me that those four symptoms and four attempts to address the problem have failed for one reason: they are only symptoms of the problem, they are not the problem itself. Conflict is not our problem, it's only a symptom, it's only an outcome of a deeper problem. Politics is not our problem, religion is not our problem. There is something at the depths of the men and the women that live in Ulster that is causing all the murder and the mayhem across our province. Do you know what it is? It's the age-old problem of men. The Jews hated the Romans, the Romans hated the Jews. The Gentiles hated the Jews and the Jews hated the Gentiles for hating them! The blacks hate the whites, the rich hate the poor - and you have it all over our world, a problem of hate, hate, hate. Hate someone different than you, hate someone born into a different tradition or culture, hate someone that looks by the eye to be different than you, and what is it? It is hate, Jesus says, that comes from the depths of man's heart. And all these symptoms exist and stem from what is called, listen: sin! Jesus said Himself, Matthew 15:18 and 19: 'But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies' - sin! The breaking of God's holy law, the blatant disregard of the Almighty - and it doesn't matter what colours you're wearing when you do it - it's sin!
Do you know that the Ten Commandments still apply in Ulster? Nations have struggled throughout all time - you read your Bible and you'll find that out. That even in the belly of a woman two nations, the Bible said - twins in Rebecca's stomach, in her womb - twins were struggling with one another, Jacob and Esau. They would become two great nations and they would fight the bit out among one another. There has been ethnic conflict for all time, it's not something new in Ulster. Religions have fought with one another for years. In fact, in the very beginning Cain slew Abel, why? Because he wanted a man-made religion, not God's faith. So he fought and he took a life.
My friend this evening, our problem goes further back than the twenties. Our problem goes further back than 1690 - it goes right back to the Garden of Eden. To where God created man and woman in His own image, and where He told them: 'Of all the trees of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die' - and they ate, and they sinned, and they died!
That's where the problem comes from, where man disobeyed God - and he is still disobeying God in Ulster! He is proud, he wants everything his own way, he wants everyone to conform to his way - and he will even go to war, and take life, to get his own way - but God has already diagnosed his condition. God says: 'All you like sheep have gone astray, and you've led everyone to your own way. You've gone your own way, for you believe your own way to be better'. You've strayed away from the law of God, the holiness of God, the requirements of God. Do you know the problem in Ulster? I'll tell you the problem: the devil himself has manipulated this little land. Satan, Lucifer, the angel of light - the Lord Jesus Christ says that: 'He was a murderer and a liar from the beginning and the father of all lies'. Do you know what I believe? You mightn't agree with me, but I believe tonight that Satan has Ulster round his wee finger. He is controlling this nation. He has blinded the people of Ulster to their need of Christ because they're so preoccupied with their own communities, their own political and religious struggle, that he's taking them to hell! And they don't know it! He gets them caught up with the paramilitaries, or with so called Protestantism, or the bands. He gets them taken up with nationalism. And all of a sudden they're following this cause from an early age, and year after year, and decade after decade, until they're in their seventies and they're sitting - they can hardly walk - and they're still shouting at the television set, because all they can see is their politics, and the old devil's laughing for he's got them!
You know, the big picture of all nations is found in the book of Daniel, and when you go into the book of Daniel, do you know what you read in Daniel chapter 10? - and you can read it when you go home. You find there that God teaches us that behind every nation there are spiritual beings operating, influences guiding, politically and religiously in the whole land - and we in Northern Ireland are no exception. There are principalities and powers that are guiding our nation in the direction that it is going in - and those principalities and powers have their sway within Ulster, and with Ulster people, with Ulster children, because he ultimately wants to claim Ulster for himself and all the people in it, he wants to take this land to hell!
Do you ever wonder why there's a UVF flag on nearly every pole around East Belfast? He's claiming the ground! Do you believe that? I believe that. I believe that that's not planned in some wee back street room with a few hard lads, I believe that's planned somewhere else - in the courts of Satan himself, trying to blind, trying to pull people into this whole thing. If you think about it for a minute, the church of Jesus Christ perhaps, itself, has got caught up with this whole thing. They've got mixed up in the plan of Satan and have fallen for some of his lies and under the bondage to him - think about our two communities. One is influenced either by idolatry in the Roman Catholic Church, or by Celtic paganism that dates back to the druids before the dawn of Christianity. And then in the other community, it would surprise you how many are shackled by the Masonic and Occultic influences of Orangeism and Black preceptory and the Royal Arch purple. And there's that influence in one community, and there's another influence in another community, and they're all living for their wee thing, their wee ideology, their wee political idealism - and God sees them blinded!
Why do you think the greatest evangelised part of the whole world is hardly seeing anyone saved at this moment in time? Because Satan, I believe, has a grip of her people. I'm led to believe - and I can be corrected in this - that the name for Ireland, and I'm talking about the Republic of Ireland, 'Eire', is the name of an ancient Celtic goddess. And do you know what that goddess requires? The blood of her son. Imagine if there was a principality and a power behind Eire, and behind our little land here, Northern Ireland, and behind the United Kingdom, and behind the whole of Europe - principality, a demon, and even a goddess! Planning, thinking, scheming so that there would be blood shed on our land, why? To take souls to hell! And he doesn't care whether it's a Protestant or Roman Catholic, all he cares about it is if it's a soul that's not washed in the blood of Christ! All he cares about is if he gets another one!
And what is the answer? What is the answer to such a problem, a spiritual problem as this - an evil such as sin and hatred, that is orchestrated in the very courts and councils of Satan himself? Listen to our text! Ephesians says that, 'He has made peace'. He can reconcile two divided, opposing, mutually exclusive communities by one way - by the cross! Oh, if you would see this: that the cross is God's way! The cross is the way that He saves men, and He can even take two warring factions in a land like ours, and bring them together in one new man, one new nation under Christ and under God! That's the only way we will have lasting peace in Ulster. That's the only way we can have a hope for the future of our children, because if you think about it: even there at the cross, two arch-enemies, two empires of all time, the Roman empire and the Jews united together to crucify the living God in flesh. And the great irony is that they didn't realize that, by uniting together against Christ, one day it would be possible for them to be united together by the very blood that they were shedding. For there He was dying for sins, there He was suffering the punishment for all the ethnic sins in all the world, for all the hatred, all the false bigotry, all the sins that we see across our land, the murder, the hate, the lies, the deceit - there at Calvary the Lord Jesus Christ was dying for sins such as that. You see the cross is the answer - the cross is the only answer to our need as human beings no matter where we live.
Do you know that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross for Ulster's sins? Do you know what that means? He can be the only Saviour of Ulster. He's the only one that suffered for our sins, and therefore He's the only one who can deliver us from the morass that we are in. And it's not Christ and loyalism, it's not Christ and nationalism - it is Christ and Christ alone can save!
Oh, I've heard, 'For God and Ulster' - and don't get me wrong, I'm patriotic, because I believe the Bible teaches that you're to respect those that have the rule over you within the country, as appointed of God. But let me tell you this: do you see if your 'For God and Ulster', hinders you from Christ and takes you to hell? You can be sure that it's not of God. Do you know what Jesus said? Listen to His words, 'No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other'. You cannot serve God and this world's things!
I don't know whether you know this, but when God looks down on this world He doesn't see a border. He doesn't see any divisions but one - the only division that counts - saved or lost. And there is coming a day - and forget about all the political scene for a moment - where every man, every woman, every teenager, every person - whether they lived in Ulster or Timbuktu - that they will stand before the Great White Throne of God, and the word of God says, they will answer for their works, their hatreds. They will answer for the things that they have vented upon others, and if they are not saved - no matter who they are - the word of God says they will be cast into the lake of fire and will suffer for their sins. And they'll be cast in with the devil who deceived them, and they'll spend eternity with the devil himself.
The Psalmist says, 'But Thou O God shall bring them down into the pit of destruction, bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days, but I will trust in Thee'. Will you trust in Him?
I'm finished, but I want to leave this one little story with you. In the 1920's, in our wee land of Northern Ireland, there was a state of chaos - and fear and uncertainty filled the minds of the people, and the politicians were at their wits end of what to do. Murder and mayhem seemed to be on the throne of Ulster. The situation was absolutely hopeless, it went from bad to worse, but to the Christian there was hope because they had God! And God sent a man called W.P. Nicholson and he was used to preach Christ and His cross, and thousands were brought to Christ, and a civil war was turned into a revival! And God can do it again!
My friend, Christ is the only solution and the only answer for the problem of Ulster, for their problem is sin. And Christ, and His cross, and His blood is the only answer for you. For your problem is sin also.
Let us pray together. There is a literature table on the way out of the church, all the literature on it is free. Please take one, a leaflet or a booklet. I'm here for you to talk to, I'll be at the door. We'll have a cup of tea upstairs, you can come up and chat to me or someone else upstairs. But my friend, if God has been speaking to you, get right with Him and be reconciled to Him and finish the whole problem of sin in your life, that is reflected in the sin of the nation, and let Jesus save you. He can save you now, where you are, if you just cry out to Him in faith and ask Him to forgive you your sins, and turn from your sin and turn to Him and say, 'Lord I know that You died for me at Calvary, save me and come into my life now'. Why not do that now?
Our Father in Heaven, we thank You this evening for the great message of the Gospel. That whosoever will may come, there's no conditions of what religion you are, or political persuasion, all you have to be is a sinner - and we're all sinners here tonight. So we pray, in Jesus name, that sinners that know You not will come tonight by the way of the cross - the only way by men can be saved - and that they would see the crucified Christ for them, and that they would take that gift of salvation by the grace of God. Lord, give them grace tonight we pray - and bless us now and bless the refreshments that we will partake of, and bless those who must go. But grant that none may leave without Christ in their heart. For it's in His name we pray. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "The Troubles - What's The Answer?" - Transcribed by Judith Watkins, Preach The Word.
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