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The Wonder of His NameCaptain

Photo of Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: William Ernest Henley grew up in poverty in nineteenth century England. At the age of thirteen he contracted tuberculosis of the bone, and at the age of seventeen he had to have his leg amputated to save his life. While he was in the hospital recovering from surgery on his remaining foot, he wrote a short poem.

And in that poem he speaks of being in darkness. Maybe he was talking about despair or depression. He doesn’t make it clear exactly what he was talking about, but he speaks in this home about being strong and brave and unafraid even “under the bludgeonings of chance,” he says.

He talks about how his circumstances, tough as they are, cannot conquer his soul. He says, “My head is bloody, but unbowed.” And then he concludes with these well-known words that you probably have heard: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

That poem was later named “Invictus,” which is a Latin word that means unconquerable or undefeated or invincible—invictus, undefeated, invincible.

On June 11, 2001, just before Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was executed, as his final statement, he handed the prison warden a handwritten copy of Henley’s poem. That was his final statement: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, March 20.

Nancy’s in the series “The Wonder of His Name: 32 Life-Changing Names of Jesus.” Our study of the names of Christ will contrast with the poem that ends “I am captain of my soul.”

Nancy: Now, there’s a sense in which I think those words express the mindset of every human being until we turn the reins of our lives over to Christ and acknowledge Him as the Captain of our soul. So today we want to look at that name for Jesus—He is the Captain of our salvation.

Now this phrase, this word captain as it relates to Jesus, is used only a very few times in Scripture and not at all in some translations. So I almost decided not to use this name because the English Standard Version uses actually other words here, and I’ll explain what I mean by that as we go on. But I decided to keep this one in because I think the concept in whatever translation gives us an important glimpse into who Jesus is and what He does and how He is the Captain of His people and also the Captain of this world.

Now, if you look up in the dictionary the word “captain,” it’ll tell you something like this: This is a person who is at the head of or in authority over others; a chief;  a leader; maybe a military officer who commands a company.

In fact, some translations of the Bible will use, instead of the word captain, they’ll use the word “commander,” the head, the one who’s in charge. The captain of a ship, we talk about, he’s the one who’s in charge. He gives direction. He knows where the ship is going, and he’s responsible to get it there.

In the Old Testament you have a word that’s sometimes translated commander or captain, and it’s used to describe military leaders of Israel.

For example, if you have your Bible, you may want to turn to the book of Joshua, in the Old Testament—Joshua chapter 5. We’re going to look at several Scriptures today, but this is an Old Testament appearance of this word that gives us a glimpse, I think, of Jesus. Joshua chapter 5, beginning at verse 13.

Now, the context here is that Joshua is getting ready to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. They’re just getting ready to go into their first battle against Jericho, and this is a city that is tightly walled up because the city’s heard about the armies of Israel, and the people are scared, and they’re locked up in that city. The city has got tight defenses.

The people of Israel and Joshua as their leader could have been fearful or anxious or concerned about how they were going to take this city. But right at that precipice, right at that juncture as they’re getting ready to go into Jericho, Joshua receives an encounter that’s really important preparation for going into Jericho. It’s a reassuring encounter. We read in Joshua 5, verse 13:

Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord” (NASB).

Now let’s stop there for a moment. Joshua asked this question. This looks like a man, but he’s got this sword in his hand; he’s obviously a warrior. And Joshua says, “Are you for us or are you for our enemies?” And the answer is, “No.” That’s kind of an unexpected answer. This is not a yes or no question.

I think what the commander, the captain, as he identifies himself here is saying, “The point is not am I on your side or their side. The point is: Are you on my side?” That’s what this captain is saying.

As I’ve heard, I think it was Tony Evans say about this passage, “I’ve not come to take sides; I’ve come to take over!” That’s what this captain says in affect.

Now, Joshua is the commander of Israel’s army, but now he has this encounter with a superior officer, someone who outranks him. And so this man says, I am the captain of the host of the Lord.” Some of your translations say, “I am the commander of the army of the Lord.”

Now, that word “commander” or “captain” in the Hebrew is the word sar—s-a-r. We’ve actually seen that word earlier in this series where we talked about the name of Jesus that is Prince of Peace­­—Sar Shalom. The commander, the chief, the captain, the prince, the head one—that word sar is translated here captain or commander.

Then some of the translations say, “The Lord’s army,” some say, “The Lord’s host.” This could be a reference to the army of Israel. “I’m the real commander,” says this man. “Joshua, you report to me.” Or he could be referring to a heavenly, angelic, unseen army that is fighting with and for Israel. So he says, “I’m the commander of this army, whether it’s the army on earth or the army, the invisible army in heaven. I’m in charge. I’m the captain.”

Well, verse 14: “Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, ‘What has my lord to say to his servant?’”

"Yes, sir! What are my marching orders?" That’s what you say to a captain.

The captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, "Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so (v. 15 NASB).

Now, who is this man? Who is the captain of the Lord’s host, the commander of the Lord’s army? Well, I believe that he is a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus, what we call “Christophany” in theological terms.

This man, Christ incarnate, a glimpse of Him before He came as a baby to this earth, he took command of the armies of Israel as they moved in to take possession of the Promised Land.

He’s also the Commander of the angelic hosts that assisted Israel in her battles—Jesus—the all-powerful, sovereign Commander of heaven’s army. This is Jesus, the “Captain of the host of the Lord” who leads His people to victory, and He is to be worshiped, and He is to be obeyed. He is our Captain.

Now, that’s an Old Testament glimpse of Jesus our Captain. And then we come to the New Testament. Let me read Hebrews chapter 2, verse 10—you’re familiar with this verse:

For it was fitting for Him [Jesus] for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

That word “captain of their salvation,” your translations will have different words there. We’ll talk about that in a moment. But it’s a word that in the Greek is only used four times in the New Testament.

It’s a fascinating word. Sometimes it’s translated captain. Sometimes it’s translated prince or ruler or leader or founder or author—different translations use a different word there. It’s a word that has different meanings, several meanings, but they’re all related, and they’re all appropriate descriptions of Jesus.

Let’s look at some of those meanings of this word that is translated here, captain, or the leader or the founder or prince of our salvation. It’s a word that can mean the chief leader, the ruler, the prince, and this speaks of the pre-eminence of Jesus. He is the head of His people, and He is leading us to glory. It’s a phrase that describes the exaltation of our Captain.

It’s a word that can also mean someone who takes the lead in something, like a pioneer. And the NIV, I think, actually uses that word here, the pioneer, or a forerunner, someone who gives us an example to follow. Jesus is our Joshua who leads us into our heavenly Canaan.

We sing that song at Easter written by Charles Wesley: “Soar we now where Christ has led,   following our exalted Head, Alleluia!”

That’s Jesus, our Captain, our Head, our Pioneer, our Forerunner, and as the Captain of our salvation, Jesus pioneered. He led the way in providing a way to heaven. He took the lead to take us there.

And so we see His sufferings here, not just the exaltation of our Captain, but the humiliation of our Captain who paved the way through the suffering of the cross . . . to what end? That He might conduct or lead many sons to glory—the one who takes the lead.

And then this word can mean the originator or the founder. You see it in Hebrews 12, “the founder of our faith, the author of our faith”—one who begins something—the source of our salvation. He is the founder of a new life which we who follow Him experience with Him. These are all nuances or shades of meaning of this word captain, leader, founder, originator, author of our faith.

We see this concept of Christ as our Captain, even though the word isn’t used there, in 11 Corinthians chapter 2 where it says, “Thanks be to God who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.”

This is a picture in 11 Corinthians of a triumphant Roman general after a great battle, that he has won decisively, and then he leads his troops in a victory parade to celebrate the win. That’s the picture that’s being referred to here, the people reading this New Testament letter would have understood. The Scripture is saying Christ is our general, and He’s leading the victory celebration, this procession. Our hearts have been captured by Him, and now it is our joy to follow our heavenly Captain.

So think about what this means for us today: If Christ is our Captain, if He is our Commander-in-Chief, if He is the Prince of our faith, what does that mean for us?

Well, one thing is means, and Joshua illustrates this in that passage in Joshua 5: Our responsibility is to follow Him and to do what He says. If He is the Captain, if He is the Commander, then we owe Him unquestioning obedience to His marching orders—even if sometimes we don’t understand what He’s doing, if we’re fearful of where He may lead us, if we can’t see the outcome, or His instructions don’t make sense.

Maybe He’s asking you to stay in a difficult marriage or to love a prodigal son or daughter, and that makes no sense at all to you, to give up your bitterness. Your Captain says, “Let it go. Forgive.”

And you’re going, “This makes no sense.”

If He is the Captain, if He is the Commander and we are His followers, then we owe Him our unquestioning loyalty and obedience.

It also means that He can be trusted as our Commander. He looks out for His troops. He has gone before us. He has given us the battle plan. He leads the way into battle. He is an able Captain. He will not fail.

You may not be able to see where He’s going . . . I have that song running through my head right now. We used to sing it when we were kids: “My Lord knows the way through the wilderness; all I have to do is follow.” He can be trusted.

Those words of my friend Charles Spurgeon come to mind here. He says,

Therefore, cast yourselves on your Captain’s care. March onward though you cannot see your way! Fly at the enemy though they seem to outnumber you by ten to one, for greater is He that is for you than all that can be against you! Be not afraid of anything, for your Captain is equal to all emergencies.

Our Captain, the Lord Jesus, can be trusted.

Then the thought of Christ as the Captain of our salvation should strengthen and encourage us as we do battle against sin, and against that three-fold enemy—the world, the flesh, the devil. Sometimes they seem so powerful, so overwhelming to us. But we should take courage and have strength as we realize that the greatest battle we ever faced, falling short of God's glory, staring the wrath of God in the face with no hope of victory, Christ won that battle for us at the cross as our mighty Captain.

Now that same Captain continues to fight for us. He intercedes for us in heaven as we battle sin in our own hearts, and we battle opposition from without in this fallen world. That means that we don’t need to hide in shame or give way to despair or cower in fear. He is our mighty Commander-in-Chief who is willing and able to resist the forces of evil in us and through us and for us. Take courage. Be strengthened as you engage in the battle.

Now, we know that there is a battle going on in the spiritual realm, and if you’ve been a Christian any longer than about thirty-six hours or something, you have seen that. Satan is alive and well, so far, and he is always seeking to pull God down from His throne and to enslave the hearts of men. But remember, that war was won when Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished!”

But there is still this intense “mop-up operation” that’s taking place here on earth, and it will continue until the final day when the Captain of our salvation leads the armies of heaven to bring about the final overthrow of Satan and all his demons. And that is a victory that only Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, can win as He is committed to bringing many sons and daughters to glory.

Now here’s another thing we need to remember: If the Captain of our salvation was perfected, as Hebrews 2 tells us, by what He suffered (and that’s a whole lesson we could do on what all that means) . . . But we know that He had to suffer in order to be made the perfect salvation, in order to be made the perfect Captain of our salvation. If He had to suffer, then so must we.

His sufferings gave way to and opened the door for and made possible our way to glory, and so will our sufferings pave the way to glory if we are following Him. Our Captain is bringing many sons to glory, and He will lead and guide His people all the way through this life, to death, and beyond death, to share in His glory for all of eternity. So it helps to keep that big picture in perspective when you’re in the middle of all the junk going on here down here on this earth.

One old-time commentator, Alexander Maclaren, says it this way:

If we will take Christ for our Captain, He will teach our fingers to fight. If we keep close to Him and turn our eyes to Him, we shall not walk in darkness, but the gloomiest path will be illuminated by His presence, and the roughest path will be made smooth by His bleeding feet that passed along it. If we follow Him, He will lead us down into the dark valley, and up into the blessed sunshine, where participation in His own eternal life and glory will be salvation. If we march in His ranks on earth, then shall we with joy upon our heads arise and meet our Captain in the skies.

Don’t you love that? That’s what we need to keep in mind as we’re down in these dark valleys. There is blessed sunshine and victory and hope that lies just ahead.

And that takes me to just a final word about the ultimate victory of our Captain. You read it in what may be my favorite chapter, certainly one of my favorite chapters in all of God’s Word. It’s Revelation chapter 19, and it tells us where this story’s going. Let me read a paragraph to you beginning in verse 11:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but Himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is The Word of God.
And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords (vv. 11–16).

And so, here at the end of time Jesus appears once again. This time not in humiliation as He came at His first advent but in His exaltation as Captain and Commander, leading the armies of heaven to consummate the victory won on the cross, and to once and for all cast down all the forces of darkness and death into eternal hell.

This is the man that Joshua saw in Joshua 5. This is the Captain, the Commander the apostle John saw there on the Isle of Patmos. And this is the Commander and the Captain that one day we will see with our eyes as the King of Glory comes to lead many sons to glory.

And so we confidently proclaim that Jesus alone deserves the title “Invictus” – invincible, undefeated, unconquerable. He is the Captain of our salvation, and so we gladly and joyfully affirm: “I am not the master of my fate: Lord Jesus, You and You alone are the Captain of my soul.”

Leslie: Maybe you don’t usually think of yourself as a soldier following Jesus as your captain. But Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing you why this name of Jesus is so important. Nancy will be right back to pray.

Today’s teaching is part of a series called “The Wonder of His Name.” If the Lord used today’s program to speak to you, would you share this program with someone who needs it? Here are some options:

  • If you’re friend is more of a reader, you can share the transcript. It’s at ReviveOurHearts.com.
  • Or send them a link to the audio.
  • Or send them the video. Our team has created short, sharable video versions of Nancy’s teaching throughout this series, “The Wonder of His Name.” You can watch it at ReviveOurHearts.com. And then share the link. Or share it on Facebook or Twitter or Pin it—or whatever else you do to share things that mean a lot to you.

Christ is our Cornerstone.  Nancy explains why this matters so much on tomorrow’s program.  Now, as we wrap up today’s program on Jesus as Captain, she’s back to pray.

Nancy: And so, Lord, we worship You, our Captain, our Commander, and the Captain and the Commander of all of the hosts and the armies of heaven. You are powerful. You are mighty. You are unconquerable, invincible, undefeated. And thank You that You have suffered; You have gone to glory; and now, as we walk through a pathway of suffering, You are leading us each step of the journey and bringing us many sons and daughters to glory to be there with you forever and ever. We love You. We bless You. We worship You, oh Captain and Commander of our salvation. Amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

Dawn Wilson, Lindsay Swartz, and Darla Wilkinson provided helpful research assistance for this series. 

Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.

Topics: The Son

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