Monday, November 2, 2020

Monday of Trinity 21

 Defend Your Turf, Christian Soldiers!

Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV) 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, 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, and also for me, 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.
In the Epistle Reading for the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, St. Paul highlights the fact that Christians are soldiers in the Lord’s army. Christians are baptized into Christ’s legions as soldiers of Christ; we have been clothed with the armor of Jesus Christ’s righteousness in Baptism, which covers all our sins and will keep our souls safe from Satan’s attacks. But even though we have been saved for everlasting life and enlisted in the Lord’s army, we need to learn how to make use of the “whole armor of God” that Paul refers to.
St. Paul says: “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.” And then he goes on to elaborate on the identity of our enemy; he writes, “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.”
St. Paul is emphatic that in our Christian lives, the enemy of our souls is not other people, or nations, or armies. We will automatically lose the battle if we think that terrorists, or foreign countries, or political opponents, or even false religions are what the Church is fighting against. Paul says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” but rather against the devil and all his demonic cronies.
Of course, Satan does make use of human beings who willingly go along with his plans against God and the Church, but we have to realize that the hostility of other people against us is just a symptom of a much larger problem: the devil and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places are constantly attacking our faith in Christ, primarily by invading our consciences. Those people who are hostile to us and to the Church need our prayers more than anything, because they are captive to the Evil One’s devices as he attacks Christians and tries to separate them from Christ’s army by destroying their faith.
So we are all enlisted in Christ’s army against the devil and all demons, but what is the nature of our military service to Christ? Are we offensive or defensive troops? Are we supposed to go on search and destroy missions against the devil, or are we to simply defend our turf, serve on guard duty, as watchmen?
At least four times St. Paul talks about us taking a stand against the devil and his forces—stand against, withstand, stand firm, stand—he says. These are defensive terms that describe a person under attack. The overall picture St. Paul paints is not one of a soldier heading out into battle, or marching to war, but rather one who is on watch, looking out for the enemy, and then standing firm when under attack.
Here is why we are not spiritual crusaders, offensive troops: because Jesus is the champion, and He has already won the victory over sin, death, hell, and the devil. Jesus lives, the victory’s won! Jesus is the one who has invaded Satan’s territory on earth and has won it back for God and His Kingdom. At one time Satan had been a good angel, but he could not tolerate being subordinate to God, so he rebelled against the Lord and also dragged down a bunch of other angels with him to serve in his army against God and the remaining good angels. In the mystery of God’s will, He allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and by their sin the devil brought all humans under his captivity as well. Yet God counterattacked with a promise to ultimately defeat the devil for good by the Seed of the Woman, the Christ, the Messiah, who would liberate the children of Adam and Eve from slavery to sin, death, and hell. Though the devil seemed to be victorious on that day, his fate was sealed and the Christ would defeat him for good through His suffering, death, and resurrection.
Try as he might, Satan cannot win the victory! The battle between God and the devil is not one between equal parties, so the success of God’s army is not dependent on our attacking Satan. Rather, our role is to defend our turf, to withstand the attacks of Satan so that we do not get slaughtered and separated from Jesus Christ, who is the champion. And the Good News is that we are not alone, and we do not depend at all on our own resources or power for success. Rather, Jesus gives us the victory, or as St. Paul says in Romans, we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). If our Savior, the God-Man Jesus Christ, has all authority and power in heaven and earth, then that means the devil has to be subject to Christ; Satan has no authority apart from the limited things he gets to do here on earth. And Jesus is not only our Savior but also our Protector against Satan. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Amen.
Prayer (LSB 677:1-3, 8):
1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
2. Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
8. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
    Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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