Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 17)
Sept. 2, 2012
Text: Eph. 6:10-20
            It’s a battle, the Christian life.  Simply put, it’s not easy to be a Christian.  It takes strength.  It takes discipline.  And the worst part is, in the weakness of your sinful flesh, you have no strength and you resist the discipline of the Lord.  So how on earth are you to do what Paul says in our text, to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10; ESV)?  Well, first of all, realize that it is the strength of His might that is at work within you, to make you strong.  This, too, is God’s gift of grace.  It’s not your might.  It’s His.  He works in you by His Spirit in His Word to strengthen you with the very strength and might of Jesus Himself.  Because you have no strength, He gives you Jesus’ strength.  And then there is the next verse, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (v. 11).  The English here is perhaps a bit misleading.  You don’t put the armor on.  You have the armor put upon you.  God puts His armor upon you.  A soldier in Paul’s day would have an armor bearer, who would dress him in his armor.  Armor is too heavy to dress yourself.  Someone else has to do it.  Furthermore, it was a great honor and considered good fortune to wear the armor of a great hero, armor that had been tested in battle and proven in victory.  Here God Himself outfits you with the armor of your great hero, Jesus Christ.  It is this armor that St. Paul bids you wear, the whole armor of God, and He describes it in detail. 
            But first you need to know your enemy.  In a political season, especially when things are not as they should be in our country, the Christian is often led to mis-identify the enemy.  Too often Christians think that if their guy wins the election, all will be right with the world.  And too often Christians think that if the other guy wins the election, there’s no hope for the world.  Certainly elections are important for life in this earthly realm.  We should vote and volunteer and do what we can, to the best of our God-given abilities, if possible, to make life in this sinful world a little bit better.  But don’t idolize your candidate.  Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Ps. 146:3).  And make no mistake: Politicians are not the enemy against whom you fight in the battle of the Christian life.  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” (Eph. 6:12).  He’s talking about demons.  He’s talking about the devil.  And so you see just how serious this battle is.  You can’t win it on your own.  You’re powerless against the devil by your own strength.  The Lord must fight for you.  And He does.  Just as He went out with the armies of Israel, went before them and drove out the nations.  When Israel would take it upon herself to fight the battle, she would lose, for she had failed to believe in the Lord and confess that He fights for her.  But when Israel trusted in the Lord to win the battle, the Lord would give the victory to Israel.  That is the case for the Church, for you, as you battle against the spiritual forces of darkness. You believe that the Lord fights for you.  You confess that He wins the victory.  And so you are kept safe.
            God gives you His armor for your protection in this dangerous fallen world.  He knows that here in this life, as one who is baptized into Christ, you will always be a target of the devil.  He knows that apart from Him, you will not be able to stand firm in the evil day (v. 13).  So He outfits you with His panoply.  He fastens around you the belt of truth (v. 14), the truth of God’s Word, the truth of your sin and your salvation in Jesus Christ, the truth that God has snatched you out of Satan’s hands in your Baptism.  He covers your chest with the breastplate of righteousness (v. 14), not a righteousness that is your own, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been credited to your account (justification), which then results in righteous acts that you perform by the power of the Spirit of Jesus working within you (sanctification).  Your feet are shod by God with the readiness given by the Gospel of peace (v. 15), for having received the full and free forgiveness of all your sins by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, you are ready at all times to confess Him to others, to witness, to give an account of the hope that is within you, with all gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).  God outfits you with the shield of faith, to be taken up in all circumstances, so that you can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one (Eph. 6:16), the bitter temptations and accusations and afflictions that Satan shoots toward your heart.  You extinguish these as you hold fast to God’s promises in Christ, as you trust in His salvation, as you pray earnestly, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  The Lord places upon you the helmet of salvation (v. 17), protecting your head, so that you retain the mind of Christ uninjured, lest the empty mind of the world infiltrate and by its enticements lead you down a path away from God.  And God gives you an offensive weapon against these sinister demonic enemies, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (v. 17).  Hearing the Word, hearing the preaching, reading the Scriptures, meditating upon them, speaking that Word, confessing that Word, eating and drinking that Word, having been taken captive by that Word, you do great damage to the devil’s kingdom.  Or, rather, as we should confess, God does great damage to the devil’s kingdom.  And He uses you to do it with His Word.  What a great privilege.  He covers you.  He keeps you safe.  And He sends you on the offensive.  You know you will be successful, because it is the Lord who fights for you.
            And pray, Paul says.  That is another offensive weapon you are given against the devil, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (v. 18).  Don’t allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security.  The devil does his best work against you when he convinces you there is no danger.  You become indolent in prayer, lazy.  Don’t give up on prayer.  Pray at all times, in all circumstances, always and everywhere.  God wants to hear you.  He invites you to call upon Him in the day of trouble.  The devil is always right there, even when you’re not thinking about him.  Pray against him.  Pray for yourself.  Pray for all the saints.  Pray for your fellow church members who are engaged in the same battle.  And Paul entreats the Philippians to pray for him as an apostle, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (vv. 19-20).  Well, Paul no longer needs your prayers.  He enjoys his heavenly crown, having been martyred for the preaching of Jesus Christ.  But the application is this: Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, please pray for me, your pastor.  Paul tells you precisely what you should pray.  Pray that words may be given me to open my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel.  Pray that I speak it in season and out of season, whether it’s popular or not, no matter what the consequences, even if it leads to chains and death.  Pray that I speak it boldly, as I ought to speak.  Pray for all pastors in Christ, all ministers of the Gospel, that the Word of God may have free course, and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people.  Nothing does more damage to the devil.  Nothing is more important in the battle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
            Remember, we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.  This is an all-out war with demons and the devil, the fallen angels who want to get back at God by killing our faith and dragging us to hell with them.  The stakes could not be higher.  But the point of this text is that in Christ, you’re safe.  Baptized into Christ, the devil has no claim on you.  You don’t belong to him anymore.  You belong to Christ, who shed His blood to redeem you for Himself.  You belong to His Father, God’s own child.  God’s Name is written upon you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
            I said at the beginning of this sermon series that St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is about Baptism, the baptismal life, and our life together as the Baptized Church of God.  We end where we began.  You are baptized into Christ.  And so He has placed His whole armor upon you, to stand in the evil day, and to fight.  Beloved, fight, work, and pray, as is your calling in Christ.  Do so in the strength of the Lord.  And know that God wins the victory for you over the devil, sin, death, hell.  He has already won the victory in the death and resurrection of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.  Satan cannot harm you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.               


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