Sermon on Ephesians 6:10-18 for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 13 & 16, 2018
There’s some craziness going on in our world, in case you haven’t noticed. If you look at history—ancient history or recent history, you see people raging and destroying and doing terrible things to each other. Tuesday was September 11. We remembered what happened 17 years ago when terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center. That was nothing new, really. It was just on a bigger scale. There was another terrorist bombing at the World Trade Center in 1993. And those are all in a long line of wars and terrorism. And then there’s the political climate. More craziness. Anger and bitterness on all sides. And that’s just what makes the news. There’s local crimes, murders, and tragedies. What is happening?
I. Our Struggle is not against Flesh and Blood.
- Spiritual warfare. War against humanity by the devil and his forces of evil. Now when you think about the devil making war on people, you might think of something you saw in a spooky movie. The devil possessing someone, making them speak in strange guttural sounds, shaking and spewing green slime across the room. Can the devil do that kind of thing? Yes he can. Sometimes he does. In today’s Gospel we read about a young man who had a demon that threw him into water and fire and tormented him. We know this wasn’t just first century people not understanding some other illness because the Gospels do make a distinction between epilepsy, other diseases, and “having a demon.” In some parts of the world, this is common. There’s a Lutheran church body in Madagascar that does exorcisms about as frequently as we do hospital visits. Even though we don’t see that here, it doesn’t mean the devil isn’t active. He has a hold on people in many other ways. I can imagine the devil looking at our lives and laughing. “Wow! That person let his anger go out of control. I didn’t have to do that much! I just put a suggestion in his mind about self-importance and pride, and his weak nature did all the rest! He screamed at his neighbor and did irreparable damage to a friendship! That was easy!” Among us, the devil seems to do a lot with distraction—taking important things and making them unimportant and taking unimportant things and making them most important. I saw a news story about a teenager in Russia who lost a video game, so he went outside and killed himself. Was that a real world problem? No. Was it worth his life? Absolutely not. But he was distracted from what was important.
- Paul wrote: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” What is he saying? All the evil in the world that people do—the anger, the wars, the violence, the terrorism, the lies, the destruction, and so much of the losses are part of the devil’s concerted effort to ruin people and destroy their souls—to keep the unbelievers in darkness and to discourage and mislead the believers so they lose faith. The poor young man who had a demon that threw him into water and fire was part of the devil’s plan. The Russian teenager who was obsessed by his game, and then was overcome by anger and despair was part of the devil’s plan. When you and I get angry or obsessed with some little thing—build a wall between ourselves and someone close—or throw away some gift of God because we could no longer see what was important—we become part of the devil’s plan. He takes us as close to destruction as he can because that’s his goal. This may be painful—but I want you to think for a moment about some foolish thing you almost did. Some thought you once entertained in your mind that you didn’t do—you were about to quit your job because you were angry. You were about to walk out of a marriage because you were angry. You were about to turn your back on everything good or decent because you wanted to live for yourself for once. And then you didn’t. Later, when you were older and wiser you realized what you could have done and what destruction could have happened. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” Paul says. It’s not just your sinful, selfish human nature at work. It’s not just your spouse or coworker being a jerk. It’s not just political forces trying to manipulate public opinion. It’s spiritual forces of evil at work.” That thought may make the dark, scary world darker and scarier—but that’s the reality.
II. But God Himself Equips Us.
- Psalm 46 says, “We will not fear though the earth give way. … Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall. … The Lord almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.” Jesus told his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you” (John 14:18). “Surely I am with you always until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus is with us in a mystical way beyond our understanding. He is also with us because we have his Word in our hearts. His Word of guidance—his law that sharpens our conscience and holds us back. His Word of forgiveness and love that sustains and strengthens us in faith. We need to keep hearing that Word to keep it refreshed in our hearts because with time, trouble and temptations, we get worn down. Other things start to obscure the clear, sharp Word in the heart (Hebrews 4:12). We need to hear it again. St. Paul uses a very vivid word-picture. He’s really talking about hearing the Word and applying it to our lives. It’s an image that would have been familiar to his readers. They would have seen Roman soldiers dressed in their armor all the time. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can stand against the schemes of the Devil. … Stand, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness fastened in place, and with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace tied to your feet like sandals. At all times hold up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the Evil One.” All these either are God’s Word or are derived from it. “Truth.” That’s God’s Word. “Righteousness.” The path of righteousness is shown to us by God’s law. The power of righteousness is ours in the Gospel of Jesus. “Readiness.” That is the way God empowers us with the righteousness of Jesus covering us—making us more than we are because we’re connected to him. “Faith.” He calls that the shield that can extinguish the devil’s flaming arrows. Faith is reliance on God and his power when we know we have none. “Also take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” What protects our head—our thoughts? “Salvation.” …Knowing that we have already been rescued by our Savior, Jesus. Knowing that his victory is already ours. …Knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ (Romans 8:39-39). What is our offensive weapon? “…the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” That’s how Jesus answered temptations. ““Go away, Satan! For it is written…” (Matthew 4:10). We can answer temptation in the same way—and more. “Go away, Satan, because you have already been defeated by Jesus: Jesus, who resisted temptation. Jesus, who drove out demons. Jesus, who took our hell on the cross so that heaven would be ours. Jesus, the seed of the woman who crushed the serpent’s head. Jesus, who took the wages of sin, rose in victory, and gives us his victory over sin, death and you, Satan!” The devil rages and does his worst to try to make us forget he is a defeated enemy—but that is what he is. The realities about the powers of evil we face, and about the full armor that God gives are often hidden from us, but the Word of God makes it clear. In Christ, we have God’s gifts, Spirit and strength. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can stand against the schemes of the Devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 For this reason, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to take a stand on the evil day and, after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness fastened in place, 15 and with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace tied to your feet like sandals. 16 At all times hold up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the Evil One. 17 Also take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 At every opportunity, pray in the Spirit with every kind of prayer and petition. Stay alert for the same reason, always persevering in your intercession for all the saints. (EHV)