Ephesians 6:10-29 (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 2, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle reading from Ephesians 6:
Finally, 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. 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 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, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Most people probably don’t realize this war ever happened: the Spanish-American War. Ever even heard of it? For a brief time, from April to August 1898, we were at war with Spain. This is the war that began with Americans shouting, “Remember the Maine!” I bet we don’t remember the Maine, do we? This was the war with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders and their charge up San Juan Hill. Almost as if it had never happened, in four months, Spain had surrendered. Fact is, they weren’t much of an opponent. By the late 1800s, Spain was several centuries past its prime.
There is another war not many people realize is going on, because the enemy is largely unseen. This war is much more critical than any our nation has ever fought, and the casualties are much heavier. This time the enemy is no pushover. Every ounce of our energy, every weapon we can bring to bear, and every defense we can raise will not be enough. In this war, we need the full armor of God!
You do know which war I’m talking about, don’t you? You do know the enemy. No, I’m not talking about the war against terrorism, that war against a nearly invisible enemy who nevertheless seems to be operating in the shadows everywhere. No. We are at war against a different unseen enemy, far more dangerous. We are at war with Satan.
In our Epistle, St. Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians, “Finally, 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. 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.” This is no collapsing Spanish empire we’re up against. We are at war with none other than the great evil empire and ruler of darkness himself, Satan. And Satan likes the way a lot of this war is going. His tricks are working. He’s got enemies, he’s got allies, and there are plenty of neutrals. But he’s tricked nearly all of them into forgetting what this war is really about.
Think about Satan’s human enemies, Christians. Many Christians are confused about the war to be fought with Satan. We hear television evangelists and fundamentalist preachers talk about the great war to be fought between God’s forces and the forces of Satan. The call it Armageddon—the great war at the end of the world. Many fundamentalist Christians believe this will be the final war to end all wars, actually fought on earth, physically, in the Middle East. For some Christians, this prospect of a final all-out earthly war against Satan’s henchmen is a terrifying thought. Now when people make some end-of-the-world battle that important to their theology, or when Christians become frightened about it, Satan is winning the skirmish. He’s diverting attention from the fact that the Great War is being fought right now—and we’re winning!
Satan has other poor souls even more confused. As hard as it is to imagine, Satan has human allies. Satan worship is a real religion in America. One satanic priest claims that as many as fifty thousand human sacrifices are performed every year in the United States. That number may be hugely inflated, but time and again police do attribute violent crimes to satanic cults.
Often satanic involvement begins with things that seem like fun—drawing pentagrams, playing with Ouija boards, conducting séances just as a gag. But thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, do consciously sell their souls to the devil. Do people who are into devil worship know what they’re doing? Probably yes and no. They believe the devil is real and can really give them what they want. But surely they can’t know what’s finally in store for them. They can’t possibly grasp how terrible hell will be. Even those who have consciously allied themselves with Satan have forgotten that he’s fighting a very deadly war against their souls.
But do you know what is even more tragic? Satan hopes to inflict exactly the same fate on those who try to remain neutral in this war. This is a huge number of people. So many people, even so many professing Christians, don’t really believe we are at war at all. They don’t really believe there’s a devil. This may be the devil’s most deceitful scheme. When someone doesn’t believe in Satan, or when we forget, we forget we’re at war. When we do that, we get soft. We become even more vulnerable to sin than we were already. We can begin to rationalize our favorite sins, whatever they may be—loving our cars a little too much; showing love for our kids a little too little; failing to show love to God at all, except the occasional Sunday morning; maybe even pretending sex outside of marriage is love. Whatever. When we forget our war against Satan, we can rationalize almost anything, because we think we’re hearing words of wisdom rather than whispers of the enemy.
But St. Paul won’t let us forget. “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.” Satan is real. He is at war with us right now, and he’s powerful! Yet, when the last drop of blood has been shed, we’ll be able to stand against him, because God provides us with all the armor we need. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
We need the whole armor of God for our war against Satan. There’s no such thing as putting on half the armor of God. We need all the protection God gives! Picture the armor in your minds. A Roman soldier serves as the model. Picture this Roman warrior preparing for battle, first putting the belt over his short tunic. “Stand, therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.” Every soldier in every age and in every kind of war needs to feel convinced that the cause for which he is fighting is true. Our cause is true. We stand against Satan and against the world because God has opened our eyes to see him as he truly is. Because Satan has blinded the world, it may ridicule us, abuse us, and call our cause foolish. But someday our cause will be vindicated.
“Put on the breastplate of righteousness.” We know our righteousness will never stand against Satan. Our righteousness, our works, the best we can do, is filthy rags. But God has firmly fastened onto us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Jesus did that on the cross, laying down His armor to die and rising from the grave to give us absolute protection against all Satan’s accusations—the assurance that we are forgiven, that we wear Christ’s own holiness.
As a result, we stand, “having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” as “shoes for [our] feet.” In the midst of war comes that beautiful word peace. Now that our sins are forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are at peace with God. We are in a holy alliance with Him. And that means we need never fear. “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.” Satan will do everything he can to frighten us. He’ll tempt us, threaten us, and someday even bring physical death. At every turn he’ll ask us, “Can God really get you out of this one?” In faith we say, “Yes! He always has and always will.” “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) Salvation has been won for us! In the ultimate battle of the cross and grave, Jesus defeated the devil and broke Satan’s power. Satan fired all his arrows and spent all his weapons. He has nothing left. Christ has given us the victory by His death and resurrection. That means someday He will certainly give us the crown of glory to replace the battle helmet.
So here we are, outfitted for war—except that all our armor is worthless without a sword, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” How often do we go into battle with everything but our weapon? When fighting at close quarters, God’s holy Word is the best piece of all for warding off Satan’s thrusts. It’s the only weapon we can use to attack, change things, even win for our Savior many of those neutrals—even some of Satan’s own allies!
Magnificent armor, every piece of it! But you know what makes it so powerful, truly invincible? All this is the very armor of Christ. It is battle-tested. It’s been worn to victory. And the Savior who wore it before still fights for us. As we put on the whole armor of God, we’re really wearing as our armor Christ Himself. And if we are in Christ, we are invincible!
By 1898, Spain was a shell of its former self. Three hundred years earlier, it had been the most powerful nation on earth, but the defeat of the great Spanish Armada by the English in 1588 changed that forever. By the time the U.S. picked a fight with Spain, it was a pushover. Satan once ruled the world, and even today, working in the shadows, always lurking, he’s no pushover. But, he is “pushed over.” Christ has knocked him flat. We’re still at war; let’s always remember that. But in Christ, we are armed for ultimate victory. Amen.