No Retreat, No Surrender: King Leonidas and King Jesus

By Mathew Gilbert

When soldiers are backed into a corner during a battle they have two options: (1) surrender or (2) stand. They can give up or they can face their enemy. In the movie 300, there are many scenes that demonstrate that tension between surrender and standing ground in a war. But one scene in particular communicates this ever so clearly. After fighting back Xerxes’ army for days, a would-be ally turned traitor reveals to King Leonidas’s enemy a secret path that spells out certain defeat for the Spartan warriors. Leonidas learns of this news from Daxos, the leader of the Arcadian army. Their exchange goes something like this:

Daxos: Leonidas! We are undone. Undone, I tell you. Destroyed!
Leonidas: Daxos, calm yourself.
Daxos: Our hunchback traitor led Xerxes’ Immortals to the hidden goat path behind us. The Phocians you posted there were scattered without a fight. This battle is over, Leonidas.
Leonidas: This battle is over when I say it is over.
Daxos: By morning, the Immortals will surround us. The Hot Gates will fall.
Leonidas: Spartans! Prepare for glory!
Daxos: Glory? Have you gone mad? There is no glory to be had now. Only retreat or surrender. Or death.
Leonidas: Well, that’s an easy choice for us, Arcadian. Spartans never retreat. Spartans never surrender. Go spread the word. Let every Greek assembled know the truth of this. Let each among them search his own soul. And while you’re at it, search your own.

Leonidas reminds his frightened friend that the Spartan way does not comprehend retreat. It cannot fathom surrender. Spartans never give in because Spartans never give up. Their identity defined their actions. Surrounded by the enemy, the warrior-Spartan mentality of Leonidas and his 300 grinned, grabbed a shield, and stood firm. No retreat. No surrender.

To live the Christian life is to live in a spiritual war. In this war, we have an enemy, Satan, who loves to lie and war against us. He loves to steal our joy in God and tempt us to not trust God. He surrounds us with his looming and tactical deceptions. The three-headed monster of sin, Satan, and suffering can slowly walk us to the edge and cause us to stare into the abyss of despair. The question for us in this moment is: “Will we surrender or will we stand?”

Paul has commanded us to stand. Never surrender. He speaks of standing against sin and Satan three times in Ephesians 6. In verse 11 he encourages believers to stand against Satan’s tricky plans. In verse 13 he calls them to stand firm and withstand “the evil day,” which refers to those days that Satan attacks us especially hard. Finally, in verse 14, Paul simply writes, “Stand.” Stand. Stand. Stand. No retreat. No surrender. Paul doesn’t hide how dangerous Satan can be. Our enemy is dangerous. At times he backs us into a corner. But we must never surrender. We must always stand.

So how exactly do we do that? How do we stand against the enemies that lead us away from God? Paul gives us three ways to stand against sin and Satan in Ephesians 6:

1. Be strong in the Lord.

When people think of Christians, they don’t usually think about strength; they think about weakness. Christians are thought to be soft or weak. But Paul says we are to “be strong.” It is so important to be strong as a Christian. In order to love others, you must be strong. In order to share the gospel with others when you may be ignored or laughed at, you must be strong. In order to stand against and fight sin and temptation, you must be strong. In order to face all the bad things that happen in the world, you must be strong. Weak hearts will crumble in a world filled with sin and suffering.

Rely on the mighty strength of Jesus to face a world of sin and suffering. In order to follow Jesus, we must rely on his strength. We must be strong. And we can be strong, because our strength is found in the strongest person in the world. Jesus’ strength is found in his weakness on the cross. He became weak, so you can be strong. When you feel tempted to sin or doubt who you are in Christ, run to Jesus and be strong in him.

2. Put on the whole armor of God.

We depend on the strength of God by putting on the whole armor of God. Soldiers wear protective armor in order to fight well. No soldier would go into battle without his armor. If he did, he wouldn’t live very long. Christians cannot survive in this spiritual war without the armor of God. God is a warrior. He fights for his people. His final blow to sin and Satan was in the death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross. There are six pieces of God’s armor that Paul mentions: (1) the belt of truth, (2) the breastplate of righteousness, (3) the shoes of readiness to proclaim the gospel, (4) the shield of faith, (5) the helmet of salvation, and (6) the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

We put on this armor by walking in the new life that is ours in Christ. The most striking thing about the armor of God is that there is no protection for your back. This implies one thing and one thing only: in the Christian way, there is no retreat! We are to always face forward.

3. Watch and pray.
To stand firm and not surrender, we must commit ourselves to diligent prayer. Standing firm against an enemy of Satan’s power and evil magnitude, we must walk in the strength of the Lord. Paul gives us five ways in Ephesians 6:18-20 to pray that will help us stand strong in the spiritual battles we fight.

1) Pray at all times.
2) Pray faithfully.
3) Pray with toughness or perseverance.
4) Pray for other Christians, fellow soldiers.
5) Pray for gospel courage.

For Leonidas and the Spartan 300, the only alternative to retreat or surrender in this final battle against the Persians was defeat and death. Death for the Spartans was better than surrender. The same is true for Christians, but we have greater hope. Daily death to self is far better than surrender to sin. Sin is killed through death, and the source of our power to stand and fight is the death of the King.

While the Spartan way desired death as a form of battlefield glory, Christians can face temptation and sin and death with confidence because of the glory of resurrection life. Christ has gone to battle. He has defeated the enemy. He has won the war. Through his death and resurrection, Satan is undone. Through his death and resurrection, the people of the cross find eternal life and glory worth having. Christian, to surrender to sin is to forsake your identity in Christ. When the battle for your soul rages fiercest, remember because of King Jesus, you can say with King Leonidas, “No retreat. No surrender!”

Mathew Gilbert (B.A., Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, Kentucky with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

One thought on “No Retreat, No Surrender: King Leonidas and King Jesus

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