3rd Sunday before Advent – Sermon 120

13th February 2011 Off By Derek Buckthorpe

Prayer to Start

May the words of my lips and the thought of our hearts be graciously received for the Glory and Honour of our Lord Jesus Christ



Few things are more difficult – in life than to follow God’s call for faith and love

It sounds wonderful – but when it comes to the moment – we opt for certainties rather than promises – our own well being rather than the well being of others

We find it difficult to believe that God – will actually use us and make a difference –

This evening we are going to listen to two stories – from soldiers at war – where faith and love are tested to the limit


Point 1 –    A soldiers story – time of Gideon

My name is Jerub-Baal –which means contender with Baal – most people call me Gideon – son of Joash –

My Father is the grandson of Benjamin – one of the leaders of the Tribe of Judah –

I’m here to tell you what happened when God chose His men to confront the Midianites – who were gathering at the foot of the Hill at Moreh – there were around 135,000 of them –

God called me to lead the Israelites against them – I wasn’t sure about it at first – until He sent me a sign

I have to say – I’ve never been involved in anything like before – and I wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect – but when you’re called – you’re called – and if God’s with you – well you can’t lose can you?

I summoned an army of volunteers to join me at the valley of Jezreell – near the spring of Harod – about 32,000 responded – that’s around 4:1 against – not good odds – I thought – but with God on my side – that would more than make up for it – so I slept well that night –

Next morning though – things changed – God told me we there was too many men – I was flabbergasted – too many men – how could that be? Anyway He reassured me He knew what He was doing – so I did what He asked –

I announced that – everyone who was afraid to go into battle – could leave – can you believe it – 22,000 of them packed their bags and left – my heart sank – I was really depressed – the odds were now around 13: 1 against – surely they should be getting better – not worst –

And – then – God spoke to me again – there was still too many men! Just who’s side are you on I thought!

He told me to take the men down to the spring and watch them drink – those who drank with their hands – could stay – and the others would have to be sent home –

Only 300 men used their hands – I was petrified – the odds were now 500: 1 against – Just what had I let myself in for – nothing short of a massacre – I thought – mine!

Then God spoke to me again –

“If you’re afraid to attack – go down to the enemy camp with Purah (my man-servant) – and listen to what they are saying –

Well I did – and I heard this man talking about his dream – how a loaf of barley – came tumbling down into their camp – overturning their tents – His friend said the loaf of bread was my sword – and that God had given the Midianites and the whole camp into my hands –

Well that was good enough for me – this was something I was meant to hear – these men were afraid – despite the odds – I knew then that despite everything – God’s team were going to win –

We ran all the way back to wake up the men – and divided them into three groups – giving each man a trumpet – a jar and a light –

When the signal was given – they blew their trumpets – smashed jars and held their torches high – shouting –

“A sword for the Lord and for Gideon”

With all the noise and the lights – the Midianites panicked – they must have thought we were more than 300,000 strong – and in their rush to escape – started fighting each other – they all fled towards the Jordan – where along with our – reinforcements – we eventually caught up with them – and put an end to their reign of terror –

I learnt a very important lesson that day – that God can give you success – if you are prepared to trust Him enough – to take a step – and follow His plan

Everybody talked about the victory for years – after – they all knew who was running the show – after all there’s no way 300 could have defeated 35,000 without divine intervention –

Gideon’s experience shows us that with trust and faith in God – victory is assured – and that God’s power can change situations – and people – despite the odds against it – which leads us on to our second story


Point 2      Soldiers story – WW2

We move forward to the second world war – to a Japanese prison camp – in the Thai jungle –

It comes from an autobiography called ‘Miracle on the River Kawai’ – written by Ernest Gordon – a British Officer captured at sea by the Japanese –

Most of us have either heard of – or seen the film – ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ – where men were forced to work – in intense heat – to build a railway through Thailand – their bodies stung by insects – ravaged by disease – their bare feet cut – and bruised by sharp stones –

Death was common place – if you appeared to be lagging behind – you were beaten – or bayoneted in front of the other prisoners –

Many dropped dead through exhaustion – and disease – such were the numbers that died – that every mile of track laid cost 393 men their lives –

Fights broke out over the few scraps of vegetables and rice offered by the Japanese – It was a place where the law of the jungle ruled – where the atmosphere was poisoned by selfishness – hatred and fear – nothing mattered except to survive – it really was survival of the fittest –

But – just when things seemed at their darkest – stories began to circulate around the camp – of self-sacrifice – heroism – faith and love –

It was custom among the Scottish Argyll’s for a man to have a ‘mucker’ – a pal or friend who shared or ‘mucked in’ everything he had – One Argyll called Angus – had a mucker who became very ill – everyone was certain he would die – except Angus – when someone stole his blanket – Angus gave him his – when he drew his daily ration – he would collect it – only to give it to his mucker –

The mucker got better – but Angus collapsed – and died – from starvation and exhaustion – but the story of his sacrifice – spread – as a shinning example to everyone –

Then another event – shook the prisoners – after counting the tools – at the end of a working party – the Japanese guards shouted – that one of the shovels was missing –

A guard walked up and down the ranks – demanding to know who had stolen it – and when no one confessed – he screamed – All die! All die! And raised his rifle to fire at the first man in the line

At that instant a man stepped forward – ‘I did it’ -the guard fell on him with fury – he hit him hard with the butt of his rifle – and the man crumpled to the floor motionless – when the attack finally finished – his comrades took his body back to the camp –

That evening when the tools were counted again – the work crew discovered – a mistake had been made – no shovel was missing –

‘There is no greater love than this’, said Jesus, ‘That someone should lay down his life for his friend’

These acts of sacrifice shone like beacons – causing a transformation in the camp – prisoners started treating the dying with respect – organizing proper funerals – and burials – marking each man’s grave with a cross –

They started looking out for each other – at risk of death – even undertook expeditions outside the camp – to find food for sick comrades – thefts grew increasingly rare – men started thinking less of themselves – and more of finding ways to help others – Death was still with them – but slowly they were freed from its destructive grip – True there was hatred – but there was also love –

Gordon himself – became ill – and experienced the change in attitude in the camp – in a very personal way –

In addition to the usual diseases – of beri-beri – maleria, disentry and typhoid – he developed diptheria – which made it difficult to eat – and as a side effect lost all sensation in his legs – he was placed in death house – where prisoners – were laid out in rows – waiting to die – but a voice inside told him – he still had a purpose to fulfill –

The men built a new bamboo hut which meant he could be placed away from the swamp – and he was helped by a man called Dusty – who volunteered each day to clean the uclers on his legs – and massage his muscles – Dusty was a man who believed – that God knew every sparrow and hair of our heads – ‘We can’t see everything God is doing now’, he said – ‘But eventually we will see – and when we do we will understand.’ –

Gordon responded – to the care he had been given – and as he continued to recover – was approached by an Australian Sergeant – who was wondering if there might be something in this Christianity – and asked him if he would lead a discussion group – The lads wouldn’t stand for any of this Sunday school stuff – he said – they wanted ‘the real Dingo’

Gordon realized – he had to find out as much as he could about Jesus – and eventually came to know Him – Gordon became the unofficial camp chaplain – and the prisoners built a tiny church – and gathered each evening to say prayers for those with greatest needs –

The informal discussion group – took off – so much so that a jungle university was formed – with others offering to teach skills – on a range of things – languages- mathematics- sciences – they made their own paints – musical instruments – and put on theatre performances – individuals were inspired to live out every precious moment –

Even Japanese soldiers were helped – when their own men – discarded them because they were no longer fit for action – the words of Jesus – ‘love your enemies’ came alive in that camp –

Gordon goes on to say – that their experience of life in death – had taught them – that the way to life – leads through death – to see Jesus was to see Him in that highest form of life – that love which has sacrifice – which has a logical end in its action

To hang on to life – to guard it jealously to preserve it – is to end up burying it – each of us must die to the physical life of selfishness – controlled by our hates and fears – in order to live in the life of God’s spirit –

As Philip Yancy says in his book – ‘Two worlds lived – side by side in the Jungles of Thialand in the early 1940’s – ‘the miracle of the river Kwai’ was no less than the creation of an alternative community – a tiny part of God’s Kingdom – taking root in the least likely soil – that somehow proved more substantial – more real – than the world of death and despair all around


Conclusion    Our response


In both stories God’s influence is there for all to see –

The lessons for us – from the first story – are that we need to be totally dependent on Him – in all we do – only through God – can our situation be turned around – and victory assured

God wants us to become leaner – more prayerful – more purposeful – more loving – in our commitment to Him – and in our witness of His love and Christian faith –

Our second story – reminds us – that – our witness can change attitudes dramatically – We may not live in such extreme circumstances – but by being more like Jesus – in our attitude to life and to others – we can influence other people – even the smallest acts of love can save lives

God wants us to show His love and power in the darkest places – He wants – to use us – to paint His light on the world’s darkest canvasses

There were no easy ways for God – so there are no easy ways for us – but with God’s help we can help Him – make a difference – and secure a part of His Kingdom here in Lymm – and for God – that truly would be wonderful –