World War II Memorial on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France
By R. Herbert
Militarily, a beachhead (so named because it is often a literal area of beach on a sea coast) is an area that an army secures as the initial foothold in enemy territory.
Once the beachhead is established and reinforcements arrive, the invading army can then begin to extend its position and radiate out into the territory it seeks to capture. But it is vital that the beachhead be firmly established and controlled for expansion to occur.
One of the most famous operations of this type in modern history was the Normandy beachhead established on the French coast by Allied troops in World War II – allowing the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe and the eventual overthrow of that dark regime in the countries it had conquered. That beachhead cost the lives of thousands of brave soldiers, but their sacrifice made possible the invasion that brought freedom to multiple millions.
Earlier in history, at the beginning of our present era, we find something similar occurred in the establishment of Christianity in Jerusalem and its eventual expansion from there. It’s an analogous situation that helps us to understand a number of scriptures in the New Testament.
Early in his ministry, when Jesus first sent out his disciples, we find that he commanded them: “… Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). Later, after his resurrection, his command changed: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Was this a contradiction, as is sometimes claimed? Why the change? The answer is simply because the spiritual “beachhead” of Jerusalem and Judah had to be first secured through the teaching of Jesus and his disciples. Then the preaching of the Kingdom of God could progressively radiate out from Jerusalem. We see this expansion in Christ’s own words: “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
In the invasion of Normandy, the allied troops were not simply spread out across the whole French coastline where they would have had no effect; rather the invading forces established a specific beachhead on “Omaha” and its adjoining beaches. The establishment of Christianity was no different. Jesus himself said “… I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), and that is exactly where he concentrated his disciples’ efforts at first.
This fact explains two more scriptures that are sometimes thought to show contradicting accounts. Early in his ministry, Jesus sent out his disciples, telling them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt” (Luke 9:3). But later in his ministry Jesus specified “… the one with a purse should take it, and likewise a bag; and the one without a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). In the first instruction Jesus made sure the disciples would not have the necessary supplies to go beyond the borders of Judea, where he was sending them. At the end of his ministry, once the “beachhead” was established, Jesus instructed them to take the things they would need for longer journeys into more distant territory. In fact, the “bag” (NIV) they were told to take means a “backpack” or “travelling bag” and is so translated in many versions of the Bible (ESV, Holman, etc.).
But if this analogy helps us to better understand several scriptures regarding the original establishment and expansion of Christianity, it should also remind us that like the beachhead of Normandy, Christianity’s beachhead cost many lives to make freedom from the powers of darkness, and ultimately salvation, possible. Principally, of course, it cost the life of the “captain of our salvation” (Hebrews 2:10 KJV), but we should remember that the Book of Acts shows that many others also gave up their lives on that original beachhead as they followed Christ. Today we are called to lay down our lives, too – even if only metaphorically – for the sake of others. The message of the Kingdom of God has spread out into the world, but not all the world has been reached. Wherever missionary activity is occurring, beachheads exist. Some are in distant lands, others are in our own communities. But if we are following the command given to the followers of Christ, we can give and serve to help establish those beachheads whether in person or in prayer. On which beachhead are you fighting today?