I have odd collections of associated images when it comes to the phrase “storm the gates.” For starters, old black-and-white images of soldiers leaping off of ships onto the beaches of Normandy come to mind, their terror and determination coming through in a way only those cameras can capture. Many of those pictures were taken by one war photographer, Robert Capa, that ran onto the battlefield at Normandy armed with nothing but his trusty camera. So, he was shooting his own side, but ironically in a frantic bid to preserve those brave soldiers as they stared down machine gun nests and the rising tide of the Nazi forces waiting beyond that point.
Next, I see grizzled Aragorn and the remaining Fellowship of the Ring riding with all of their might toward the gates of Mordor, their battle cries ringing clear and sonorous off of the Black Gates. Each soldier fully expected to die a painful death, or spend an eternity as a prisoner of Sauron. And yet, they miraculously survive due to the efforts of a few small hobbits exploring a volcano deep within enemy territory.
I bring the idea of storming the gates to your attention, because I think Christians have had a wrong mindset for years when it comes to evangelism and the world in general. The way many Christians talk about dealing with the world and the unchurched is by speaking in terms of a lifeboat. “Come with me if you want to live!” We say in our best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice before handing over a tract on salvation and inviting our friend, or a complete stranger, to church. There is a fear that this whole planet could spontaneously combust at any moment, leaving those outside of the “Jesus Lifeboat” stranded swimming in a river of fire and death.
Now, regardless of your views on the afterlife, this sounds like a retreat mentality, not the mindset God desires of his people. This isn’t Dunkirk, everyone, this is Normandy. We don’t have a lifeboat, except to ferry us to the battlefield!
When Peter made his confession in Caesarea Philippi, Peter stated clearly that, “You (Jesus) are the Messiah[…] You’re the son of the living God!” (KNT) Peter made a bold claim that day, and bolder than you may think. See, “son of god” was a term used by Romans for the emperor. So in a way, Peter is proclaiming that Jesus has more claim to rule the world than Caesar, in a place named after Caesar! And before that, Peter claims that Jesus is the Messiah, not just any anointed king, but the hoped-for ultimate King sent by God, who was God, who represented His people and would free them from sin and exile! Again, Peter in other company would have drawn some sharp gasps from Romans and Jews alike. And Jesus responded with: “and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell won’t overpower it.”
So the gates of hell. Gates, if you know, are part of the defensive structures of a city or fortress designed to let in allies and keep out enemies. Let me say again, gates are defensive structures, not offensive ones. I’m saying it twice because the idea struck me harder than a sack of old hammers. On the cross, Jesus already destroyed the power of sin and death, he rescued his people from oppression and exile. So the great commission is not so much a cruise ship’s warning alarm to fill the life boats – it’s the trumpet call sounded “CHARGE!” We’re not pulling people into life boats and giving up territory for destruction, our marching orders are to bravely move forward taking enemy territory in the name of Jesus Christ. And we take territory through acts of compassion, mercy, justice, charity, kindness, honesty, truth, and perseverance.
Consider what God called the Israelites to do after freeing them from slavery: to march ahead and capture land. So if God has freed us from slavery to sin, our next move is to do the same.
We can’t afford to retreat. As the church retreats from compassion and charity, what casualties are left behind? Who picks up the slack that the church leaves behind?
Be strong and courageous. Do not lose hope, do not be discouraged. The Lord your God is with you, wherever you may go. Joshua 1:9
What can you do to begin playing offense with your compassion and love? What gates do you need to storm in Jesus’ name with justice and generosity? What steps can your family take to begin impacting the community around you?
Photo Credit: “Face in the Surf” by Robert Capa