Preached: September 9, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God written to strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ is Ephesians 6:
As for the rest, be strengthened in the Lord and in the power of his might. Be clothed with the full armor of God, so that you can stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the worldly powers in this darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Because of this take up the full armor of God, so that on the evil day you are able to resist and, having accomplished all, to stand.
Therefore, stand with your waist belted in truth, with the breastplate of righteousness put on, and with shoes on your feet in the readiness of the gospel of peace, as you take up in all things the shield of faith, with which you can put out all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Receive the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, as you pray in the spirit on every occasion with all kinds of prayers and petitions and as you stay alert for this in every patient petition for all the saints and on my behalf so that the message is given to me, when I open my mouth, to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in a chain, so that I freely express what I must speak. (Ephesians 6:10-20).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
From the Alps to the North Sea, Europe lay divided. The Allies on the west. The Central Powers on the east. Each staring across no man's land from their trenches. In 1914 as hostilities began, no one expected such a long, catastrophic war.
Picture the trenches of World War I. Barbed wire strung everything. Exposure to the elements. Poor sanitation. Dysentery, typhus, cholera. Long periods of boredom punctured by the sudden danger of a sniper bullet, a mortar explosion, mustard gas. Even escaping with only injuries often meant a slow death from infection and gangrene. The horrors of war!
You, dear Christian, are in the trenches of far more dangerous yet vastly different kind of war. Through the word of God the Holy Spirit equips us for this battle. We fight on with the strength of our Lord Jesus Christ, even as we sang in the opening hymn: “Christ is your strength and Christ your light” (“Fight the Good Fight” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 457:1). Hear your Savior's battle cry sounding through the Apostle Paul and put on the full armor of God. Yes, dear Christians, battle on with the Lord's strength. That's the theme today. Battle on with the Lord's strength, knowing your enemy, standing firm with God's armor, and staying alert in prayer. Those are the three parts.
Know your enemy. Sometimes we imagine our enemy is that bully at school, that gossiping neighbor, that unreasonable boss, that cheating spouse. Or we might count the aches, pains, illnesses, and diseases that attack our body as the enemy or else the failures, losses, disasters, and tragedies that trouble our lives. Or maybe we take a more abstract view and name unfairness or injustice or poverty or ignorance as the enemy. But what does the Bible say?
“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV84).
Maybe we have the power in ourselves to face a bully or a gossip. Maybe we can make it through a tragedy or right an injustice with the help of our friends and neighbors. But how can we withstand the powers of darkness? How can we survive against the spiritual forces of evil from beyond our physical world? Who has such strength? Only our Lord Jesus Christ.
He holds the battle field. He rejected Satan's temptations. He crushed Satan's head. He paraded through hell itself as the Victor, our crucified and risen Savior. “With might of ours can naught be done; Soon were our loss effected. But for us fights the valiant one Whom God himself elected. You ask, ‘Who is this?’ Jesus Christ it is, The almighty Lord, And there's no other God; He holds the field forever” (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal: 200:2).
When we know the enemy, we know that our might counts for nothing and only causes our ultimate lose. Our strength for battle only come from the Lord. “Be strong in the Lord,” the apostle urges us, “and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes” (Ephesians 6:10, 11 NIV84). Battle on with the Lord's strength.
For you see, our real enemy is not that person who troubles us but the devil who uses that person to work resentment, hatred, and strife in our heart so that we refuse to forgive despite how much our God has forgiven us. The devil uses the troubles of life to lead us to question God, to doubt his love, to give up hope in his promises. Yes, he even uses the good things of life to lull us into spiritual sleep so that we forget how much we need our God.
The devil bides his time. He may leave you alone for a while. All seems fine, as when the trenches were free from bombardment. The soldiers could share happy memories and enjoy their camaraderie. But then the mortar hits. The day of evil comes. The devil blindsides you. And even if your faith survives the attack, he schemes to destroy it through the lingering bitterness and anger or despair and hopelessness that set in like gangrene, or else to destroy it by puffing you up with pride and self-confidence that you were able to survive, which spreads like an infection. Do you see why we need our Lord?
But with his strength, no matter how evil the day, severe the attack, or cunning the scheme, you will withstand whatever Satan hurls at you. And in the end you will stand victorious, because of the mighty power of your Lord Jesus Christ. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13 NIV84). Battle on with the Lord's strength.
Stand firm with the full armor of God. The belt holds the scabbard for the sword and anchors the bottom of the breastplate. Without the belt the sword is lost and the breastplate is useless. So also if we no longer think that the Bible is the truth, we loose the sword of the Spirit and the breastplate of righteousness. “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Ephesians 6:14 NIV84).
The breastplate, like a bullet-proof vest, protects the heart. Satan fires accusations against you. “Look at what you've done. How could God love someone like you. You've failed, you loser.” But Christ's righteousness protects your heart and calms your conscience. Jesus says to you, “I have fulfilled the laws righteous demands for you. See my sinless life. I have paid the penalty for your lawlessness. See my nail pierced hands. I have secured for you God's verdict of full and free forgiveness. You are declared righteous. See my empty tomb, which proclaim the verdict. I became your sin to cover you with my righteousness.” “Stand firm ... with the breastplate of righteousness in place” (Ephesians 6:14 NIV84).
With the proper footwear the Roman soldier could battle on ready for any terrain. So also, dear Christian, battle on in the Lord ready for anything for you believe the gospel of peace. You know the good news that you have peace with God because Jesus has reconciled you to him by his death. What can get in your way since you are at peace with God through the forgiveness of sins that's yours through faith in Christ Jesus alone. So no matter how the world around you looks or how troubling the terrain is, the gospel of peace has made you ready to battle on with the Lord's strength, wearing the full armor of God. “Stand firm ... with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:14, 15 NIV84).
No matter what the attack, faith takes up its shield firmly holding on to the words and promises revealed in the Scriptures for us to believe. No matter what arrows of temptation Satan aims at you, they cannot penetrate this shield. Temptations, like flaming arrows, not only destroy when they first strike you but also as the flames spread. But this shield, unlike any other, puts out the fire. That's how powerful God's word and promises are. Faith holds on to those words and promises, relying on the power of the One who made them. Battle on in the Lord's strength. “Take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16 NIV84)
Battle on with the certainty that Jesus Christ is your Savior. You need no other. Lift up your eyes and see the salvation he's won for you. Deflect Satan's doubts from entering your head. Rather with all sureness “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17 NIV84).
The Holy Spirit works only through the word of God, which the Scriptures and the Sacraments bring to us. But have you noticed how the word of God, the Bible, is central to every piece of armor? It's the truth that's buckled around our waist. It's what brings us Christ's righteousness as our breastplate. It's what proclaims the gospel of peace making our feet ready. It's the promises faith holds on to as a shield. It's where we find salvation. God's Word is the sword of the Spirit and all our other armor as well. Battle on with the Lord's strength, his strength that comes to you onl through the word of God.
Finally battle on with the Lord's strength staying alert in prayer. For you see, prayer turns to the Lord, relying on his strength, doesn't it? Don't let prayer replace the word as your sword or armor. It's not your sincerity in prayer or your fervor that defends against Satan and defeats him. Rather it's the One on whom you're calling who brings you the victory. So “pray in the Spirit at all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 4:18 NIV), formal or informal prayers, spontaneous or memorized, written or unwritten -- all kinds at all times. Don't let your prayer life fall asleep. Stay alert. Pray in the spirit, that is, pray with your mind, heart, soul, and spirit solely focused on the spiritual truths revealed in the Word of God, which is the Spirit's sword.
Pray not only for your own battle against Satan. Pray for your fellow Christians including your pastor, like you we too are under attack. Even Paul asked for prayers so that when on trial in Caesar's court, he would speak God's truth boldly and freely, no matter what the punishment. Pray that we all battle on with the Lord's strength, knowing our enemy, standing firm God's armor, and always staying alert in prayer.
Whenever you hear of wars, whether the trench warfare of almost a century ago or the war against terror as we remember 9/11 again this week -- whenever you hear of earthly wars, be aware of your real enemy, Satan, the old evil foe who schemes against you with deep guile an great might and wear the word of your God as armor and sword. For in the battle against Satan, “one little word can fell him” (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 200:3). Battle on with the Lord's strength. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.