15th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 17 – B)
September 2, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
In the closing weeks of World War II, as the Allied noose tightened on Germany, the Germans found themselves woefully short of fighting men. In desperation, they armed children and elderly men for the futile defense of the Third Reich. Desperate times called for desperate measures. We’re living in desperate times so we too will arm children and elderly men, and also women, the handicapped, and the dying as well. Everyone who bears the title Christian must be armed because it’s the only way we can stand firm when we are under attack.
Just hours before His death, Jesus said to His disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” These words came true when the disciples were arrested just months after Jesus returned to Heaven. They were accurate when Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians from a jail cell. And they ring true today as Christians are under attack from every direction. Some of the attacks are violent, physical attacks that, conservatively speaking, kill 80 Christians a day and injure many more. In some countries, to be a Christian is to be a criminal and they risk concentration camps for praying, worshiping, or owning a Bible. Other attacks aren’t physical, but they’re no less sinister: States forcing Christians to engage in activities contrary to their faith and censorship and misleading news from all types of media, social and otherwise. Some Christians feel that a change in government or a change in cultural mindset, Christians will get relief from these attacks. That’s not going to happen. The attacks aren’t going to end soon, or at all, because we aren’t facing evil governments or hostile individuals, we’re facing Satan!
Paul says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Behind every attack, every temptation, and every violent death stands the Devil. Satan attacks you internally with sinful temptations, physical ailments, and emotional pains. Externally, he attacks through violence, the scandal of homosexual and pedophile Roman Catholic priests, and the temptation to change the doctrine of Jesus Christ to make it more palatable to others.
Satan is leading the evil spiritual forces of darkness sweeping across our world and they’re swallowing everything up in their path. And you know what? You’re fair game! Don’t think for a minute that your immune. In fact, Satan put a great big bullseye on you when you were baptized, and he’s going to attack you will all his fury. His sole purpose is to destroy your faith. You can’t just sit back and assume that you’re safe. You can’t believe that you have nothing to worry about or that his attacks aren’t all that bad. War is here! It’s at your doorstep so what are you going to do about it? Do you hide your faith in the basement? Do you curl up like an armadillo or play dead like a possum? No! You’re a Christian, so stand firm and don’t give an inch.
If you had to do this on your own, you’d lose for sure. You’re no match for the Devil. He’s got thousands of years of experience and he’s taken down more faithful people than you. You can’t rely on willpower or self-control and you can’t rely on worldly methods. Yes, the lawsuits that stop states from unfairly punishing and coercing Christians are good and we encourage them, but they’re only temporary reprieves. The Devil simply regroups and attacks from another direction.
There was a belief in ancient days that the wearer of armor would be endowed with the power and ability of the owner. This could be one reason that Saul put his armor on the inexperienced David for his fight with Goliath. Obviously, it doesn’t work this way, armor doesn’t convey special powers to anyone. Or does it? It does when it’s the armor of God! Paul says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” To stand firm in the face of Satan’s attacks you need the divine protection that comes only from God.
You have divine protection because Christ has already won the war. General George Patton said, “No [one] ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other guy die for his.” Patton might be right about actual war, but he sure isn’t right about spiritual war because that’s exactly how Jesus saved you. He took on the Devil and He sacrificed His life for you. He didn’t get a Medal of Honor for His sacrifice, He got the Crown of Victory. He died so you won’t! To Satan and all the world, it looked like Jesus had lost the fight. But then Jesus marched down the main street of Hell as the victorious Son of God. Easter revealed the truth! Satan’s the loser. He’s lost the war and he knows it. But like the Germans in the closing weeks of World War II, he’ll keep on fighting to the bitter end. He’ll fight until the day when he and all the spiritual forces of evil are cast into the eternal pit of fire.
Until that day, you are called to stand firm in the armor and the victory Christ has given you. Put on the Belt of Truth which is Jesus, the only Truth. The Belt of Truth reminds you of what is right when everything looks lost. The Devil is a filthy liar and he’ll lie to you every chance he gets. He’ll lie about your standing with God, he’ll lie about God’s love, he’ll lie about your forgiveness. The Truth reminds you that God is love and that He forgives you. That is the truth with which we wrap ourselves.
The Breastplate of Righteousness is Christ’s righteousness that protects you from all spiritual attacks. Satan will lob your sins at you like a hand grenade. He’ll launch missiles of doubt and despair, but the Righteousness of Christ means you’ll survive. There’s nothing Satan can do or throw at you that’ll destroy God’s forgiveness. Hold on to this knowledge because it’s the Gospel which keeps you standing firm. The Gospel is the promise of forgiveness and strength that enables you to withstand the Devil’s attacks instead of retreating. Shoes support you and give you traction and when you stand in the Gospel, you will not fall.
Paul goes on to say, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation.” Faith, trust in God, is a shield from God. In fact, the shield is God Himself. He shields us from the flaming arrows that Satan throws at us. The arrows which threaten to destroy our trust in God, the arrows which are designed to strike us spiritually and physically dead are knocked harmlessly away by the shield that is our God.
The helmet of salvation is not so much protection as it is assurance. Through your baptism you’ve been crucified and resurrected with Jesus, so you can stand fearlessly and firmly on the promise that You’ve already been given the victory. No matter how fierce your battle is with Satan, not matter how many times he comes at you or succeeds in wounding you, your salvation is assured. You can confidently trust that what awaits you, eternal life, is far greater than anything you’ll experience in this life.
Almost all the pieces of armor that we are given are defensive, but there’s one that’s not. Paul says we’re to wield “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Paul is talking about all the ways that we use the Word of God. As Christians we read it, meditate on it, hear it, sing it, or hear it preached. The Word of God is the sword with which we block Satan’s blows of temptation, sin, and death. Just as Jesus defended Himself from Satan with God’s Word, so also it is our defense. We swing His sword knowing that whatever it strikes is rendered powerless. Nothing Satan comes at you with can overcome the Word of God because God has already used the Word to defeat him and all the host of the spiritual darkness.
At the end of the today’s reading Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him in his imprisonment. What’s shocking about Paul’s request is that he didn’t ask them to pray for his freedom. He asked that they pray “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” He asks them to pray that he would boldly proclaim Christ. He knew his battle wasn’t with the Romans or the Jews, it was with the Devil, and he needed God’s help. And God gave it to him in the form of Christ’s armor. Like Paul, we’re battling Satan, and like Paul we can be brave and stand firm. We’re not afraid. We’re not cowards who run away at the first sign of battle. We stand firm because we stand with Christ who has already won and His armor will defend us to the end.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen