Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
War is all around us. You can’t listen to or watch the news without hearing about war and conflict. Nation against nation, countries tearing themselves apart in civil war, age old battles over land continue to take new lives, murders in the street and domestic violence fill the media.
The Bible even records the accounts of many wars just like these. Even in the New Testament, which we often think of as the tame end of the Bible, St. Paul talks about a battle that is raging in this world. This war is a battle the devil wages against the disciples of Jesus.
The reason for this battle takes us back to the beginning of the Bible. God created humans to live in perfect harmony and peace with Him and with each other. God also created angels for the same purpose, but some of those angels rebelled against God and rejected His love. These angels are known as unclean spirits, demons and devils, and their leader is Satan.
Satan loathed the peace and love that existed between the first humans and God, so he tempted them to rebel against God and His Word by eating the forbidden fruit. This was the beginning of the war between the devil and man, and thus, between humans. Confronted with his sin Adam first blames Eve then God for his actions (Genesis 3:12).
Filled with guilt and stained with sin God had to cast Adam and Eve out of the garden so they could not eat of the tree of life and live forever in their wicked sinful state (Genesis 3:22-24).
However, God didn’t cut man off completely. God gave them clothes and blessed them with children and livestock even while the war between humans worsened (Genesis 2:4:1-4). The witness of the Bible is that God continued to speak to His people, for in the early pages of Genesis we read about Adam and Eve’s descendants trusting in the Word of the Lord.
Satan’s attacks on God’s people continue to this day. He loathes the love that God has created between Himself and you. The devil wages war against you, attacking your faith by tempting you to sin, then accusing you of sinning in a way that is unforgivable so that you enter into despair and fall away from God. Adam and Eve could not win in their fight against the devil, neither can you.
This is why in the closing words in his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul says be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might, not in your own strength. We cannot win against Satan. He is far too strong and he is a master at his trade. He has been leading God’s people into sin and death since the beginning. You won’t win if you fight him. The Good news is that you don’t have to. The most important words Paul speaks in this section of his letter is ‘stand’.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Three times he tell us to stand. Why? Because the battle is not ours, it is Jesus battle and He has defeated the evil foe for you.
Jesus has defeated the devil by His cross. In what looked like a defeat, God’s Son in human flesh died on the cross of Calvary. But any victory cry Satan and his devils had was soon turned to torment, for on the third day Jesus rose from the grave, again taking up all His divine powers and ascended to the right hand of the Father to rule over all things.
Jesus has won the battle against the devil for all people and those who are baptized and believe in Christ Jesus receive His victory as their own. By faith in Christ God counts you sinless and perfect, just as His Son is sinless and holy.
Living as a holy child of God is not easy. Yet it is not the stuff that we can see that poses our greatest challenges. It is the unseen forces of evil that are our greatest threat. Paul describes the war this way; 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.
The Armor of God
The armor that Paul talks about here are the tools that God gives so that you are able to stand against the schemes of the devil. The picture here is of an occupying soldier, not a combat warrior. The warriors fight at the front line battling the enemy and vanquishing them. The occupying troops come in behind the front line crack troops to live in the conquered territory and establish order. Even the sword the occupying soldier carries is seldom used because the battle is over, but is a sign of the authority he has been given to keep the peace.
Another way to understand Paul’s picture is think of the Queens Guards at Buckingham Palace; the soldiers with the big fluffy hats and bright red jacket. They are dressed in full uniform and carry a loaded weapon, but rarely use it.
The armor of God is not designed to resist physical enemies. It won’t keep a cold at bay or stop a bullet. They are spiritual weapons given to protect God’s children from spiritual attackers.
1) The belt of truth. Satan is the father of lies. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). The truth is that Jesus was won the battle for us, the devil has lost. The truth is you are counted as a winner with Jesus by your Baptism. These truths alone can defeat the lies of the devil when he whispers them in your ears.
2) The breast plate of righteousness. The breast plate covers the vital organs of the soldier. You are covered with Christ’s robe of righteousness given to you in Baptism and held in place by faith. Trust God at His Word, in Christ you are a new creation (2Corinthiains 5:17).
3) Shoes fitted with the gospel of peace. Ironically it is the Gospel of peace with God that both brings us under attack and prepares us for it. If Jesus had not died for our sins, we would still be in our sins and remain fully under Satan’s control. But Jesus did give Himself into death. The price of all sins has been paid and by faith in Jesus as our Saviour from sin, death and the devil, we come under attack. Yet the Gospel prepares us for the battle, because nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
4) Shield of faith. Arrows were dipped in tar and set alight. To defend themselves, Roman soldiers dipped their leather covered shields in water before battle to extinguish the arrows. This is an allusion to the refuge we have in our Baptism. The shield of faith is only of value if we use it against the devil’s attack, read God’s Word and go to the Divine Service and receive God’s grace in the Absolution and Holy Communion. In the Large Catechism Luther pleads, ‘If you could see how many knives, darts and arrows are every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come the Sacrament as often as possible (LC, V 82).
5) Helmet of salvation. God has granted you salvation. He will not let you fall from grace but day and night reminds you of His love in Christ.
6) Sword of the Spirit… the word of God. It is the Spirit of God that gives power to the Word of God by which we find peace with our Lord, the assurance of God’s grace and power to resist the devils temptations. Think of how Jesus resisted Satan’s temptations with only the Word of God (Luke 4:1-13).
We also pray to God according to the His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing He will hear and answer our calls for help. It is the Spirit that also prays for us when we are weak and do not know what to pray (Romans 8:26, 27).
All this talk of cosmic powers, present darkness and spiritual forces of evil can create fear in our hearts and minds. Fears that we will be lost in battle, fears that we will be crushed, or fears that Jesus is not strong enough. Behind this bad news of wars in this world and spiritual forces at work seeking to overcome us, is the Good News the Holy Spirit brings us. The Spirit announces rescue and victory through the cross of Christ. In Word and Sacrament the Spirit delivers Jesus’ victory. You can rest in Christ the conqueror, because He has defeated Satan and his cronies, and He is taking care of the evil powers and cosmic forces right now.
God gives His armor to protect your faith in Christ so that you would not fall for Satan’s schemes and lies. And if you do fall into temptation and sin, God’s Law will reveal that every power of your own is worthless against the devils tricks, and His Gospel will turn your eyes to Jesus to trust in the forgiveness and He supplies. The risen Christ once said to Paul when he was struggling in his weakness, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Corinthians 12:9).
So Stand with Jesus and His sure victory. Stand when on the Rock temptation comes. Stand on the evil day. Stand firm in faith that God will protect you by His all-conquering Son. Stand with Jesus, for where else can you go for protect and peace, He alone has the words of eternal life. Amen.
Let’s pray. Almighty God, send Your Spirit to strengthen our faith that we would remain standing on Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer, and when our faith falters hold us in Your hands that we do not fall away from You. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.