Raising the Standard
As you know, the 25th April is the centenary of the landing of the ANZACs at Gallipoli. On 25th April the whole of Australia comes to a halt at the ANZAC Day stop-sign to spend time honouring and remembering the Australians (some of whom were members of this church) and the New Zealanders that fought and died for our freedom and for justice.
We acknowledge all those who fought and all those who gave their lives in the Great War for the cause of peace. In particular we remember those, and we are inspired by those, who died at what many call “the birth of our nation” at ANZAC Cove.
Back in those days as children they would have learned and would have grown up singing the following words:
To help the weak against the strong,
To guard the right against wrong,
And bear the flag of Truth along.
Helping the weak against the strong takes physical strength mixed with spiritual fortitude. One writer, speaking of those who were at ANZAC Cove, says, “Mental strain and physical illness reduced the bodies of our finest youth to gaunt skeletons held together only by determination.”
Yes, it was sheer determination that held these brave men together when they were fighting to help the weak against the strong! It was, it is, and will ever remain the honourable thing to do! It is just to guard the right against the wrong, for this is to hold up the flag, the banner of truth!
There is a verse of Scripture that is notoriously difficult to translate from the original Hebrew. It is Isaiah 59:19. The New King James Version of the Bible renders it thus,
“So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun; when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.” Isaiah 59:19.
We’ll let the experts in Old Testament Hebrew debate which is the best way to translate this text, as to whether it is when the enemy comes in like a flood that the Spirit will raise a banner or standard or whether it is the LORD Himself who, like a river driven by the breath of the LORD, that comes in like a flood. But either way, the LORD will cause those in the East and those in the West to fear His name! For, “So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun.”
Earlier on in his Book Isaiah says of the LORD, “He will lift up a banner to the nations from afar, and will whistle to them from the end of the earth; surely they will come with speed, swiftly.” Isaiah 5:26. There’s that picture of the Spirit of the LORD lifting up a standard! We see the same thing going on in Isaiah 13:2, ‘Lift up a banner on the high mountain, raise your voice to them; wave your hand, that they may enter the gates of the nobles.” Isaiah 13:2. And the same is pictured again in Isaiah 18:3, “All the inhabitants of the world and the dwellers on the earth: when he lifts up a banner on the mountains, you see it; and when he blows a trumpet you hear it.” Isaiah 18:3.
So, we might all agree then that the words, “when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him” are completely in line with the Book of Isaiah and indeed the rest of Scripture!
I remember as an Army Chaplain marching in my first ANZAC Day parade here in Brisbane. The regiment I was attached to held its banner high. What a glorious sight to see them marching on ANZAC Day with their flags and their banners waving in the breeze, as they breathed in the air of freedom, as they marched to the beat of liberty, with the Australian sun glinting off of the “Rising Sun” badge on their slouch hats!
They were there because the LORD has lifted up standard against the enemy – the enemy of truth, of justice, and of freedom. As I marched on that particular ANZAC Day the people lining the streets were crying out, “Thank you!” They were thanking the “Diggers” for their determination to help the weak against the strong, to guard the right against the wrong, and bear the flag of truth along – just like our Australian forefathers, just like all those brave men and women who fought and who died in the Great War.
But we’re not here to glorify war. War is hell and we all long for the day when all wars will cease, for the times when the nations, as Isaiah says elsewhere, “Shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4b.
When we look at the news on TV we have to wonder how it will ever be possible for all wars to cease! Surely all mankind would have to rally under His banner for this ever to happen?
It was a Padre, the Reverend Arthur White, who began our “Anzac Day Dawn Service” tradition. He had conducted a service at 0400h on the morning of the departure of the earliest ANZACs to leave Australia.
After the Great War, at dawn on 25th April in 1923 he and twenty others watched a wreath they had thrown into the water. As it floated out to sea, he recited these words, “As the sun rises and goeth down we will remember them.” How can we forget them? How can we ever forget our fallen? They have made the supreme sacrifice! In Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem “For the Fallen” from which our “Ode of Remembrance” is taken, we find the following words:
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
Yes, they fell with their faces to the foe. They were brave! We will remember them. We ought to! But let’s ponder our verse again, “So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun; when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”
The Banner Unfurled
Now, Scripture says that you reap what you sow and that our last enemy is death. In popular culture death is usually depicted as the Grim Reaper, a skeleton clothed in a hooded black cloak, carrying a scythe and pointing his boney finger at you. Death personified! Be that as it may, but how is death going to be conquered? In other words, how ultimately is the Spirit of the LORD going to raise up a standard against death? Well, it’s the stock answer to every question asked at Sunday School, isn’t it? The answer is Jesus, isn’t it? Jesus! It’s all about Jesus being lifted up.
Jesus is our banner hoisted! Jesus is our flag unfurled! Jesus is our standard raised! As a flag on a high flagpole snapping and flapping in a strong wind draws our attention, so does Jesus Christ when He is lifted up by the breath of God, even the Holy Spirit, working through men and women.
Jesus caused the Grim Reaper to point his boney finger at himself, if you will! How so? Well, it’s all about Jesus defeating death by setting His face to the foe and heading towards Jerusalem and the cross that awaited Him!
It’s all about the Spirit of the LORD lifting up a standard against death through Jesus being raised from the dead! Yes, the death of death is all about Jesus and His resurrection!
Of Jesus Paul says to the Corinthians, “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26.
So, we have it on good authority then that our greatest enemy, even death itself, will be defeated. Think about it: death itself has been conquered by Jesus! He is risen!
Jesus has crushed the serpent’s head! He has defanged the serpent! He has removed the sting from death’s tail! Jesus has dealt the deathblow to death! Jesus is the standard that the Spirit of the LORD has lifted up.
Jesus Himself said before He went to the cross, “‘Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” John 12:31-32.
You know, there is a famous painting by Rembrandt called “Raising of the Cross.” Christ is depicted as already having been nailed to the cross and there are soldiers raising it with Jesus on it so that it stands vertical. However, there at the feet of Jesus is a man wearing a blue painter’s beret. Wow! It’s Rembrandt himself! He has painted himself as one of those raising the cross!
That’s the trouble, isn’t it? Jesus didn’t die for His friends. He died for His enemies! For “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8b. Yes, we needed to be reconciled to God because we were sinners when He died for us. And as sinners we were His enemies! But look at our verse again, the second half, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”
Like Rembrandt in his painting, and as Jesus has said, we are to lift up Christ. Yes, the cross condemns us because God’s Law condemns us, but, at the same time, the cross saves us!
The cross condemns us because He had to lay down His own life to save us from death and the punishment thereof, i.e., the wages of our sin. Sin is our breaking of God’s Law.
We couldn’t and we can’t save ourselves because as sinners we are at war with God! But the cross saves us because Christ by His substitutionary death has received in full from God the punishment that we each deserve! And by His perfect life as our representative He has paid in full what each of us owes to God, i.e., perfect obedience to His revealed will.
In a nutshell God has imputed or accounted or transferred you the believer’s sin to the Man Christ Jesus and punished Him instead of you. God pummels His Son on the cross. Then God imputes or accounts or transfers Christ’s righteousness to you the believer. And then He pats you on the back and says to you, “Well done good and faithful servant!”
What did you do to receive along with the Christ Jesus the reward of everlasting life? Nothing! You did nothing! It was the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who did it all! It was God who put the Grim Reaper back in his grave where he belongs, and where he’ll never bother you again, forever – if you are a believer!
Yes, the Spirit of the LORD lifted up a standard. For Paul says to the Romans, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11.
The Spirit of the LORD who raises the standard has raised Christ from the dead and will likewise raise all who trust in Him from the dead unto everlasting life. God has given us His Spirit as a token or deposit of this good news!
The 1998 Oscar winning war epic, Saving Private Ryan, tells the story of the daring rescue of Private Ryan, the last survivor of four brothers, by a Captain and a small unit that had been sent to find him. They find him and they bring him home alive. It was loosely based on a real event.
Well, “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. Jesus is the Captain who has single-handedly rescued us. He has rescued us from all our enemies, sin, Satan and self. He even has rescued us from our last enemy which is death! He will bring us home alive!
When you look around the world today, when you look at the news, when you see the wars that are going on, when you see the apparent decline of Christianity in the West, you may be thinking that the enemy is coming in like a flood. Well, don’t despair, just keep in mind, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”
Raise the standard! Lift up Jesus Christ! Lift Him up in your home with your family. Lift Him up at school or at work or whatever you do. Yes, raise the standard!