14th Sunday after Pentecost – 8/29/2021
What is the greatest threat you and I face today? Is it radical Islamic terrorism from such groups as the Taliban or Isis? Is it drugs and gangs pouring into our country through our southern border? Is it the aggressive and expansionistic actions of China? Is it the Deep State or a feckless and incompetent president? Or, as the ever-present environmental alarmists continue to insist, is the gravest threat to the world's population today global warming, climate change, or whatever the latest term is being employed to refer to the environmental Armageddon they insist we are heading for?
I do not want to engage today in the polemics of crying wolf and sounding the alarm against all these supposed evil threats we face. That is for the political pundits to do and to debate. But I am here today to add my voice to the apostle Paul's and sound the alarm against our most sinister dangers. The terrors of 9-11 or even a worldwide ecological disaster pale in comparison to this grave threat. This real and serious threat is to destroy our faith in Jesus Christ to the point that we lose our God, Savior, and eternal salvation! That would indeed be the greatest evil we could ever experience!
The stakes are too high for you and me to be in any way apathetic, ignorant, or indifferent to this threat. The consequences are eternal. You and I must know and comprehend the diabolical power and plan of the enemy that has declared war on us lest we underestimate him. It is also crucial to our defense to know where our power to fight this enemy stems from.
To be successful in any battle, one must first recognize who the enemy truly is and then have a deep-seated awareness of and appreciation for the enemy's capabilities.
If you and I are to win the eternal struggle we face with the ultimate enemy, then we need to realistically assess his ability, resolve, and resourcefulness.
First, who is our enemy? He is not mere flesh and blood. He is not like you and me. He has no human limitations or weaknesses, for he is not human! He is Diabolos, the devil, the ancient serpent, the one who led our forefathers astray by tempting them to rebel against God, the same one who dared to tempt Jesus to do his will and turn away from God. He is rightly called Satan, which means enemy. He is God's enemy and, consequently, the enemy of all born of God.
Accordingly, Paul warns his readers that we must stand against the devil's schemes. The devil is not simply ambivalent toward you and me. He schemes to do you and me in. The Greek word translated "schemes" stems from a root word that forms the basis of our English expression "methodologies." The devil has developed methods to carry out his goal concerning us. And dear friend, know this: The devil has one goal and one goal only. It is that you and I fall away from the faith, turn away from God and His truth, and turn to serve him by serving ourselves. The words of Jesus warned the apostle Peter concerning the devil's intentions toward him, saying, "He has designed your fall."
Many in our world today are playing a dangerous game. They operate as though the devil is a figment of human imagination or a concoction of religious zealots to scare people into believing in God. Even those who acknowledge that the devil is real evil seem to think they are somehow immune to his power and influence. They play with his fiery flames of temptation, thinking they are strong enough to resist them and not get burned. So they continue to place themselves in situations that tempt them to indulge their fleshly lusts or play around with the Satanic arts.
How foolish, naive, and reckless we can be at times! We think that by our intelligence, resourcefulness, and strength, we can overcome this one, who was created as an archangel of God and who has no qualms about challenging God, or even, as we see several times in the Holy Scripture, is bold enough to come into the very presence of God!
But especially as Christians, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee! As baptized children of God and members of the body of Christ, we are public enemy number 1 to the devil. He is like the terrorist leaders who make no qualms about their intentions.
We are literally in hand-to-hand combat all the time with this one who has designed our fall. To carry out his schemes, the devil also employs his minions, rulers, authorities, worldly powers, and even spiritual entities of wickedness in the heavenly places. We have no reason to be naive. If our battle was against flesh and blood, we could employ human, physical weapons against our enemy. The devil's tentacles extend everywhere. He uses people of influence and power—worldly rulers; the forces of nature; demons in the spiritual realm; even godly and churchly people—to do his bidding.
The devil's greatest power, however, is not sheer strength. Oh, yes, he possesses the ability, through his minions, to torture our bodies, destroy our health, and even kill our bodies if God so allows him. But the greatest weapon in the devil's arsenal is falsehood. He is, after all, the father of lies—the deceiver. If he were to come to us looking like some grotesque figure with horns on his head and carrying a pitchfork, as he is so often portrayed, we would instinctively recoil from him and flee.
But, no, the devil's modus operandi is that he comes to us as an angel of light. He comes as a beautiful woman, a kindly grandmother, a wise and gentle older man, an innocently looking child, a person of public stature and respect, a scientist with a whole room full of degrees, a distinguished churchman or theologian—these are some of the characteristics of a person of public stature and respect. He spews his lies through their mouths to seduce us into doubt and disbelief. He came to Adam and Eve not as a slithering, forked-tongued, dirt-eating snake. The serpent became after the devil used it to deceive our first parents in paradise. Initially, the serpent was a beautiful garden creature that Adam and Eve had no fear of. And through this creature, the devil duped them into doubting God's word, questioning God's sincerity and integrity, and trusting their reasoning rather than God's clear word.
Yet, despite our enemy's diabolical intent and power, Paul encourages us to stand firm.
But how can we do that? After all, we are only flesh and blood, aren't we? We are only weak mortals. Yes, but we have the most powerful force in the universe on our side. Paul says, "Be empowered in the Lord... and the power of His strength."
You see, the devil is a diabolical schemer. He is a being of great power. But the truth is, he is a mere and lying creature. Even though the devil could deceive our primordial parents into disobedience and make their lives a living hell, he could not destroy their souls. The truth is that God, in His grace, gave to Adam and Eve, as well as all of us, their descendants, full and eternal rescue from our sin and all its consequences. The truth is that God's eternal truth became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to defeat the devil. This Woman's Seed, who is also God's Son, received the just punishment due to all sinners. He atoned for Adam and Eve's and the world's sins.
The truth is that even when the devil does succeed in duping us into temptation and sin, where and when there is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, God extends His forgiveness to the sinner so that he may not die in his unrighteousness and unholiness but live in righteousness and purity forever.
When we fail to listen to God's Word or heed the truth it tells us, then we are sitting ducks for the devil. But when we believe in God's Word, the truth does more than set us free. It enables us to defeat the evil one. Even Jesus, God's very Son, did not rely on His strength to fight the devil. When tempted, he repeatedly reminded the devil of what God said. He did not let how things appeared to be, his human perceptions or desires, or even the sinister twisting of the words of God that the devil threw at him, deceive and manipulate him. Instead, he clung tenaciously to the word of God and the power of its truth.
Without the Word of God and the power of its truth, you and I would stand no chance against falsehood and the methodologies of the devil. But with the Word of God, God has enabled us to not only stand in the face of the devil's attacks but to defeat him, forcing him to retreat from us. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you," the apostle says (James 4:7). This is because, through the Word of God, we have the armor and weapons of God to be successful in battle.
Not surprisingly, the first piece of this armor of God that Paul mentions is the belt of truth, which is girded literally around the loins. This part of our anatomy most describes our vulnerabilities—our subjection to temptation and sin. As we can see from Adam and Eve, their first reaction to their sin was to feel shame and cover their loins with fig leaves. God would soon cover them with animal skins, telling them the truth—a sacrifice would cover their shame, guilt, and sins.
Indeed, God's Word, particularly the Gospel, the Word of Jesus Christ, assures us of the good news that Jesus has atoned for sins and, through His sacrificial blood, covered our shame and made us presentable in God's eyes. No amount of the devil's pointing out our sins can change the truth that, in Jesus Christ, our sins stand forgiven, and we stand fully clothed in His righteousness.
Accordingly, the next piece of armor is the breastplate of righteousness, that is, Christ's righteousness, which protects us from any and every accusation of the devil. Sure, the devil can and will still try to accuse us. He can find plenty of sin and guilt in our lives to throw back at us. But the Word of Jesus speaks louder: "I have atoned for their sin." "Be gone, Satan!" As the holy apostle proclaims, "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?" It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? "Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (Ro. 8:33–34).
Now, no matter how good a soldier's protective armor is, if he is not swift on his feet, he will be easy prey for an enemy who is nimble and quick. There is no denying that the devil is very agile in his deviousness. He can catch up with us anywhere and at any time. But God takes care of that, too, through His Word. He outfits our feet with the readiness of the Gospel of peace. Nothing can get us away from the onslaught of the devil faster than the good news that, in Jesus Christ, we have true peace with God. In the blood of Jesus, we have no reason to fear His wrath. Where the Gospel is preached and believed, the devil must flee.
The truth of God given to us in His holy, revealed word is of no good to us if we don't trust it. Righteousness will not protect our hearts and lives unless faith holds on to Christ's righteousness. Unless we stand on it with conviction, the Gospel is only a coffee table centerpiece.
So, God also gives us a shield in His grace and through His word. That shield is faith in His word. God's grace saves us through faith alone. Faith smothers out all the devil's fiery arrows like the old Roman shields covered with asbestos-like material. And that faith is also a gift God gives us through the power of the Gospel. "Faith comes by hearing and hearing the gospel of Christ" (Romans 10:17).
The final piece of armor God gives us through His Word is the helmet of salvation. The helmet is the very symbol of the ultimate victory that God grants to those who trust in Him. Their heads are adorned with His victory. Again, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16).
Now, lest you think that God equips us only with defensive armor, think again. Paul is issuing a call to arms. After all, God has given you the most powerful arm—a weapon—in the universe. The very Word of God clothes you with truth, righteousness, faith, and salvation. The Word of God, especially the Word concerning Jesus Christ, Who is the Word made flesh, is also the weapon He gives you to fight the devil—to cut off his lying tongue and eventually destroy him. The word of God, as Paul says, is the very sword of the Spirit—"the power of God unto salvation" (Ro. 11:17). Through that word, the Holy Spirit Himself does battle with the ancient enemy and his evil legions. "A single word can bring him down!" Luther taught us in his magnificent hymn, "A Mighty Fortress." That little word of Christ that is!
Therefore, as equipped soldiers of Christ, how should we spend our time? Should we live dangerously, exposing ourselves to temptation, or associate with those who denigrate God's truth? Far be it from us to be so foolish. We ought to be occupied constantly with God's Word, reading, hearing, studying, meditating, and trusting in it, for we are equipped in God's armor and armed with the sword of the Spirit to wage effective war.
Therefore, it's inconceivable to me that so many of us walk daily into battle while leaving our swords on the coffee table, locked up in our smartphones, or tucked away somewhere for safekeeping. Listening to many, I consider the public reading and preaching of God's Word to be nothing but an occasional extra. The world views regular attendance at the Divine Service as unnecessary. If you were walking the streets of Kabul, would you leave your AR-15 rifle or 9-millimeter pistol at home? Why leave the powerful, divine Sword of the Spirit behind? How do you expect to stand firm against the assaults of the evil one without the weapon God gave you?
Then, too, an essential companion to God's Word is prayer. Prayer is our reliance on God. Jesus told His disciples in the garden, "Be watching and praying." Prayer is our full acknowledgment of faith that only in God is our strength, hope, and victory. Vigilance means taking advantage of every opportunity to pray, petitioning God for ourselves and all the saints locked into this struggle for our salvation. And yes, we should pray daily for those on the front line, our public preachers and teachers of the Word, that they might keep the word straight and be bold in their testimony of it. True victory depends on it. Jesus chastened His disciples: "Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation." "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41).
In these evil days and present darkness, we pray earnestly, "God keep us in His word that we may obtain victory!"