An Ensign Fair
An ensign is a banner or flag that symbolizes something important. It may be a military standard, a herald of arms, something that represents a nationality, a state, a family, or even a ball team. Flags are everywhere, and when one stands for something meaningful to us, we hate to see anyone disrespecting it. Why? Not because of the cloth or material in and of itself, but because of what it stands for. Here I wish to make a couple of observations about the modern flag in order to make a greater spiritual application.
Much is said about respect for the American flag in our culture. People can be quite divided when it comes to how the flag is treated. There is even a specific code for the flag that provides advisory rules for how it is or is not to be displayed. In America, the flag is considered a very important symbol of freedom, for which many have given their lives. It also is meant to convey a unity among the states. Unfortunately, many do not see it that way because of failures in the nation to live up to the ideals.
Yet the flag doesn’t stand for perfect people. What flag could do that? Rather, it stands for an ideal even when those who live under it are far from perfect or even sometimes hypocritical. That unchanging ideal does deserve respect, whatever else one may feel about specific pledges or anthems. The greatness of a country is not determined by the bad actions of imperfect citizens (as we all are), but by the principles and ideals upon which a nation is supposed to stand, regardless of how people have acted. It is supposed to call us to higher standards. Yet there is a more important lesson, for as passionate as some may feel about a national flag, there is a far more significant banner under which Christians live and to which they have already pledged their full allegiance.
Christians, of all people, ought to understand the above principle, for we live imperfectly under the perfect ideal of God and His character. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). We must never disrespect God because of the imperfections of those who claim the Lord as their banner. Rather, we must honor God all the more and point to Him and His revealed will as the Standard because we know we are far from perfect. Would we want a lesser Standard?
The church is great in spite of the failures of individuals who often act contrary to their profession (as we all have done, Rom. 3:23). Yet our achievements and good deeds do not make the church great either, for ultimately we accomplish nothing of our own power apart from God. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10) is the only way we will really be strong. Thus the Lord makes His church great because of who He is, and He transcends all the particular actions of the people.
We often sing about our ensign. “There’s a royal banner given for display to the soldiers of the King. As an ensign fair we lift it up today, while as ransomed ones we sing.” Our ensign is the cross. Jesus taught, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). He also taught, “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32). In this sense, the cross is raised as an ensign under which we all live by the grace of God. “For the King of kings we’ll toil and sing beneath the banner of the cross.” The cross is indeed a royal banner lifted up for display, an ensign fair allowing the ransomed ones to sing, “Marching on! For Christ count everything but loss.” Of course, we aren’t talking about the literal wood here upon which Jesus died, but what Jesus and His death stand for. “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). It’s about His blood shed for the remission of sins and how that changes our lives forever.
The cross, then, doesn’t stand as a banner for perfect people, but as a banner for people who desire forgiveness and fellowship with God. The cross stands for humiliation and death as those who follow Jesus go with Him “outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:13). It also stands for salvation as those who heed the gospel of peace receive forgiveness through the blood shed by Jesus (Isa. 52:7; Acts 20:28). This is why the cross is paramount: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
Respect the Standard. Kiss the Son (Psalm 2:12). Here we are called not just to stand under His banner, but to bow the knee before Him (Eph. 3:14).