Let's turn in our Bibles to Acts chapter 5 for our Scripture reading, and I want to speak to you tonight under the title 'Fighting A Losing Battle'. Acts chapter 5, and we're beginning to read at verse 29 - now just to give you a bit of the background, the authorities have ordered the apostles not to preach in the name of the Lord Jesus, and they are getting thrown into jail because they are refusing to obey that command.
In verse 29: "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go" - and we end our reading at verse 40.
Now I don't know how well up you are in current affairs, whether you watch News 24 or Sky News on a regular basis, or tune into the world news on BBC Radio - but if you are in any way clued into what's going on in our world, you will be aware that there are many many wars taking place as we speak. Many of them are civil wars, and I think it would be impossible for anyone to be aware of every single conflict that is going on on our planet, and so there are battles, wars that we do not know about, and then there are battles that we do know about. Some of you, even in this place, in your own bodies, are battling disease or some ailment of one kind or another. For many in our society, life in itself is a battle; there are others lying in hospital beds tonight literally battling for their life and every breath that comes. Of course, we are very familiar even in our own province with wars; and presently across the globe there is the 'war against terrorism'.
You could really sum it all up, whatever conflict you're speaking of: life is a fight, one fight or another. All of us, at some stage, are involved in a fight. There are some fights we are well aware of, and there are other fights we are ignorant of. In 2 Corinthians chapter 10 and verse 4, Paul spoke to some Christians and said: 'For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal', are not physical weapons, 'but are spiritual to the pulling down of Satan's strong holds'. Now those might be strange words to you, Paul in Ephesians 6 and verse 12 alluded to a similar battle, he says: 'For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places'.
I wonder are you conscious this evening that there is a battle going on in the spiritual realm. Now you might think church, and religion, and spiritual things, and even this meeting is completely irrelevant - but I want to suggest to you, and you to consider too, the possibility that the greatest conflict that is going on in this universe at this present moment, you personally are ignorant of it, and that to your eternal detriment. First Corinthians 2:14 says: 'The natural man', you just in and of yourself without God, 'does not perceive the things of the Spirit of God' - so it is quite possible, even probable, that you're here in this place tonight and you're not aware that there is a battle going on in the heavenlies, and indeed on the earth, a spiritual battle. The very fact that you're ignorant of that proves in and of itself that you're not saved.
Let me be absolutely clear: there is a spiritual realm, and you can't think it away or explain it away, and it's not pie in the sky but it is here - though it is unseen, it is real. There is a God, there is a devil, there is a heaven, there is a hell, there is judgement, there is such a thing as sin, there is holiness - you maybe just say: 'Nonsense! Show me the proof!'. Well, we haven't got time to look into many proofs of those realities, though they be invisible ones, but the fact of the matter is that the proof is all around us if we only opened our eyes, or could open our eyes. The reason why many do not see it is that they are deluded, ignorant to this warfare that is going on. I wonder are you deluded?
Near the Los Angeles Hills there's a place where thousands of people stop their car and release the handbrake, and the car seems to roll uphill. Now, if you get a plumb measure and place it on the very spot where the car seems to roll up the hill, it shows evidently that the car is rolling downhill - your eyes can be deceived, but the plumb measure cannot. That's a bit like us: we maybe cannot see the spiritual battle that is going on, or perhaps we don't want to see it - but that does not negate the fact that it is there, it is real! It is more real than everything that you're seeing at this very moment all around you, but many don't want to see it because it upsets the applecart of their life: their dreams, their plans, their pleasures.
Years ago, and it was years ago, a wealthy Chinese businessman on a visit to England was fascinated by the powerful microscope. When he looked through it he could study crystals, and petals of flowers, and he was amazed at the beauty and detail even of a snowflake. So he decided he would bring it to China, and he enjoyed it until one day he decided to look at a grain of rice. He was completely dismayed, for there were thousands of little microscopic creatures crawling all over his rice that he enjoyed as his staple diet! What did he do? Did he stop eating rice? No! He smashed up the microscope! He wanted to be blind to the reality. He destroyed the instrument that caused him to discover that awful fact. My friend, I plead with you tonight: don't do that, don't be willingly ignorant of this great spiritual battle that is going on in our world today, for if you do it will be fatal for your soul!
Someone said: 'When the ostrich buries its head in the ground to avoid the unpleasant fact, it not only represents an undignified spectacle but an irresistible target'. If your head is in the sand regarding spiritual things, you are an irresistible target for the enemy. There is a battle on for the souls of men, and you need to see it for your own good. You're either on the side of the good or the side of the evil. You're either for God or against God. You're either for Christ or the devil, there is no neutrality! You're either like Paul, who said: 'I fought a good fight, I finished my course, I kept the faith'. Jesus said in Luke 9: 'He that is not against me is for me' - are you for Christ? Because the inference of the Lord Jesus' words is: if you are not for Christ, you are against Christ! There is no 'no man's land'.
Here in the Acts of the Apostles we see this battle coming physically onto the scene of history. We see that the apostles are in prison for preaching the name of Jesus, and even the religious establishment are against their new gospel - but miraculously they are freed from jail by an angel. The authorities say to them after they recommence their preaching schedule: 'Did we not command you not to preach and teach in the name?'. In verse 29 Peter lays it on the line to them: 'We ought to obey God rather than men'. He turns the table on these Jewish religious leaders in verse 30, and tells them that it is their God, the God of their fathers, who raised up Jesus from the dead - the same Jesus whom they slew, whom they murdered and hanged on a tree. Verse 33 says these religious Jews were cut to the heart, but not cut to the point of repentant faith where they changed their mind about Christ and believed in Him, but that conviction led to their desire to murder Peter as well. I warn you this evening, if you find yourself as someone who is fighting against God: when God speaks to you and you do not respond, when God cuts you to the heart and you don't turn to Him in faith, your heart will go harder.
Then in verse 38, a certain man by the name of Gamaliel rises. Now maybe you don't know who Gamaliel is - why should you? He was a highly respected Pharisee, he was the grandson of a famous rabbi called Hillel who had an outstanding reputation as a scholar and a spiritual leader. He was also the teacher of the apostle Paul, who was Saul of Tarsus before his conversion. He was a greatly respected Jewish teacher. He stands to his feet, and he gives this reasoning in verses 38 and 39: 'I say to you: if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nothing: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God'. He gives two instances of self-styled messiahs who arose in Jewish history, and who fell again and their followers were dispersed. He is reasoning: 'Well, if this Jesus is a false messiah, the same will happen to Him and His followers'.
Now let me just say, before I go on any further, that Gamaliel's reasoning was flawed. His reasoning was suspect, because if you think about it for just a few moments: just because a movement advances in success, and even through time and generations, it does not mean that it is of God. It proves nothing, because if you consider all the religions that are false in the world, and cults, have succeeded on a human level and gone through one generation to another. Just because something succeeds as a movement does not mean it is right - and, incidentally, just because something small does not succeed does not mean it is wrong. But where Gamaliel was right in his reasoning was when he said: 'If this thing is of God, and you oppose it, you will find yourself to be fighting against God Himself' - now that's serious!
This was of God, and the proof that it was of God was that God raised up Jesus, declaring Him to be the Son of God with power. What proved it to be of God was that Christianity was alive, these apostles had to be locked up because they were turning the whole known world upside down! You can be sure tonight that this Christian message is of God, and if you are not converted, if you're not born again and saved by faith in Christ, you can be sure you're fighting against God.
I want you to consider this tonight: if you're fighting against God, you're fighting a losing battle. The first reason why that is, is that you're fighting the Almighty - and you can't succeed! You can certainly try and fight Him, resist Him, struggle - but you can never have victory over an almighty, all-powerful God! Voltaire, that humanist philosopher, decided that in a few years he would destroy the whole history and reputation of Christ. His old printing office eventually was taken over to print the Bible by the Bible Society, and it became full to the brim with the word of God that would be distributed right across the globe. On his death bed, to his doctor Voltaire said these words: 'I am abandoned by God and man. I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months of life', and the doctor said, 'Sir, you cannot live six weeks!', and Voltaire replied, 'Then I shall go to hell, and you will go with me'. Soon after that he died. He fought against God all his life.
You turn on your television, you read your newspaper, listen to the daily radio and you will hear and read and witness many people who throw their fist in God's holy face in rebellion and rejection at everything the Bible says, everything that God is. But they will have their day, and they will never succeed fighting against the almighty, all-holy, living God - you are no exception, my friend. You fight the Almighty, it's a losing battle. You also declare your ancestry - what am I talking about? Well, in John 8:44 Jesus said to some of these same religious leaders: 'You are of your father the devil, and the deeds of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth'. They did not accept the truth of who Jesus was, what He came to do, that He rose again, and they proved that their father was not Abraham that they claimed, but the devil himself - because the devil was a liar, the devil was the one who rejected God's authority and rebelled against Him, the devil was the first one ever to fight against God! In Isaiah 14 we read that his dream was to become like God, to ascend to the place of God. Pride filled his heart, and Jesus says: 'I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven', the greatest rebel ever.
My friend, if you're fighting against God, that's who your father is. Don't you be under an illusion of thinking that God is your Father. God is only your Father if Jesus Christ is your Saviour, and Jesus Christ was His Son. Not only is Satan your father, but do you know who your brothers are? Well, one is called Pharaoh, and it took ten plagues of judgement to come upon Pharaoh, and even the death of his son - and those things came in judgement upon him, and yet still he didn't wake up to the fact that he was fighting against an Almighty God whom he could not win over! His heart did not soften, his heart became harder as he fought and struggled against Jehovah. Then another brother of yours is Belshazzar. Belshazzar robbed the Temple of all the sacred vessels, and started a drunken orgy, a party drinking out of them. Then God broke through into that life that, up until that point, denied God's very existence - and a hand wrote on a wall: 'Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin', 'You are weighed in the balance and found wanting'. His knees shook, and his visage changed, and he dropped dead. He thought he could fight against God, he thought he could mock God, and he had not learned from his father or grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar - whom God made to walk on all fours in a field like an animal, why? So that he would know that the Almighty rules, the Most High rules in the kingdom of men.
You declare your ancestry: your father is the devil, and these are your brethren if you're fighting against God. But it's worse than that: not only do you fight the Almighty and declare your ancestry, but you join the ranks of crucifiers. If you look at verse 30, Peter said that they were the ones who slew and hung the Lord Jesus on a tree. They slew Christ, and by slaying Christ they rejected God - and when you reject Christ and oppose God in Christ, you show your true colours, you show yourself to be in spirit one of those. That's the stable you come from: those that crucified the Lord Jesus Christ! They are your bedfellows! Just as they said: 'Let His blood be upon us, and our children's children', that's what you're saying: 'I don't mind going out into eternity without Christ, living my life up, sinning my chances and opportunities to be saved away, and that is the legacy that I will live for my children and my children's children - but let it be'.
Now friends, I'm not singling anyone out here as a crucifier of Christ and not putting myself in that mob, because all of our sin put the Lord Jesus on that centre tree. Your sin, my sin, it was that sin that pushed Him up the Via Delarosa, it was that sin that stripped Him naked, that spat upon Him, that mocked Him, that plunged nails into His hands, that pressed thorns on His brow, that caused darkness to shroud the world like a funeral car going through the universe. It was your sin that caused the Lord Jesus' soul to become an offering to God, and you're guilty and I am guilty before God because He was under the curse of our sin - and you reject it. How does that make you feel? I know for some of you, if you got a summons in the post tomorrow to go to court for some minor offence, you'd be horrified - but imagine if God sent an angel with a telegram to you, that you are guilty of the crime of the universe and you would have to stand before God's great tribunal for putting the Son of God to death! It's not a dream my friends, this is it! It's your sin, and you need to see your sin on Christ - but you need to see that whilst these men were putting Christ to death for their old sinful selfish ends, God was working out in His determinate counsels, preordained before time, that Christ would be the very Saviour of the sinners who were putting Him to death!
So, the One whom sins has pinned to that tree, loved us enough to be pinned to that tree that He might give us the free gift of eternal life when we stop fighting Him, and allow Him to fight for us. He fought for us on the cross when He took our sins and our sorrows, made them His very own; when He exhausted the wrath of a holy, righteous God for the sins of all mankind, for all time, and took the hell of a whole eternity in three hours into His own soul - there He won the victory, cried 'It is finished!', was buried, three days later rose again. Now He can come to you tonight - why would you fight Him? My friend, don't fight against God.
If you fight against the Almighty you declare your ancestry, you join the ranks of crucifiers, and you miss the obvious. The obvious is: you'll never win. Jesus says: 'I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it'. Kings have tried to kill this faith, popes have tried to burn the Bible, emperors have tried to destroy it, and yet it is still here - still flourishing. The Bible is still a bestseller. Communism tried to ban God, and God has banned communism. You'll never win. Even angels of light, ministers in the pulpit, have tried to water down God's word with higher criticism, telling us that the stories that we love so well are fairytales - but all of those old grey-haired dead men have died, but Jesus still lives. You can't do it!
Beware, lest you find yourself fighting against God, for you cannot fight and win, you are fighting a losing battle. Jacob, his name means 'twister, supplanter, liar, thief', he thought he could wrestle with God - but God had to break him, and then when God broke him his name was changed, his life was changed, he became the father of the nation of Israel, his twelve sons twelve tribes. Now we present to you tonight the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He can be your God, but I implore you this evening: do not be reckless with your soul. This very evening there is a spot at Niagara Falls where a father threw his little girl into the seething torrent. You say: 'That's terrible!', well he was just being playful, and he grabbed one arm and one leg, and saw if he could frighten her. He swung her over the abyss, and the child in a fit of fear gave a sudden jerk, and fell with a shriek into the depths. Now our natural reaction is: 'That father had no business trifling with that little girl's life like that' - my friend, you have a soul, you have no business trifling with your soul in an attempt to fight the living God. There is the chasm of eternity, do not let your soul descend into an eternal hell because you fought against One against whom you could never win.
Let's all bow our heads. I don't know your condition here tonight. As I look out on the congregation, to a large extent there's the same people here that's always here on a Sunday night, that means nothing. Some of you young people might come out here on a Sunday morning or evening, and you're all dickied up with your tie or your hat on - and yet at school you know how you behave, you know how you live, you know what you're doing at home when the room is closed, the Internet is on. You know what's in your heart, what's in your mind, and though you might seem to be on the Lord's side on a Sunday morning or evening - during the week you're fighting against God. You can't do it. You can do it! You've either got to resign yourself that you're going to just go to hell in a handcart, and live a life of a reprobate, and sell your soul out to the devil for whatever thrills you're getting; or you need to decide now: 'I'm not going to continue to fight against God, I'm going to surrender, change my mind about Jesus Christ and believe the gospel'. There is no in between, and there certainly is no 'wait and see', because none of us have that privilege. What will you do? I'm talking to young people, but some of the older ones are doing the same, perhaps. Beware, lest you be found to fight against God.
Our Father, we thank You for the love of the Lord Jesus, that while we were yet sinners He died for us - the Lord Jesus who could say from that cross: 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do'. We think of how Peter at Pentecost could preach and tell those folk that they, by their wicked hands had taken Christ and murdered Him - and yet God had planned that He should die in such a way, and He went willingly to the cross to die for their sins. Many of those who possibly were in the crowd that cried 'Crucify!', came to know the Lord Jesus as their Saviour - no longer at enmity with Him, but His friend. Lord, may that happen to someone here tonight, or someone listening to our voice - like the apostle Paul may they know that Damascus Road experience, for Christ's sake, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "Fighting A Losing Battle" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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