Stand Firm

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 26:00 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. You know the saying: don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Paul says don’t bring physical armor to a spiritual fight. After Paul is done reminding the Ephesian Christians of everything they had heard and learned of the Faith; after he tells them everything that God has done in Christ, how God chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world, how He had joined them to the Body of Christ, which was founded on the apostles and prophets and Jesus as the chief cornerstone; after he tells them that they have been saved purely by grace through faith, not by works so that they have nothing to boast about before God; how they used to be dead, walking around in their sins and transgressions, but now they have been recreated in Christ to walk around in good works; how they have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all; after he has told them all this and more, he tells them to stand firm.

Stand firm in the strength of the Lord; stand firm in His mighty power; stand firm. After you’ve done everything, stand firm. Stand, therefore, in the armor of God. Don’t use physical armor and physical weapons, because this is a spiritual fight. It is a fight of the devil and all his authorities, and all his powers, and all the spiritual evil in the heavenly places. The devil hasn’t left them alone because they belong to Jesus; he is fighting against them that much more. Stand firm in the fight, in the battle.

Paul had already told them in chapter 1 that God had blessed them in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. And now he says that there are spiritual forces of evil againstthem in the heavenly places. This is a battle between God and the devil—not that the outcome is in doubt, or the victory is uncertain. Jesus has already defeated and conquered the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. That’s over and done. But the battle goes on. As the Revelation shows us, God cast the devil out of the heavenly places and he has come down in great wrath on the earth.

This war between God and the devil has now encompassed us because we have been joined to Jesus. And the devil can no longer attack Jesus. Jesus died, rose, and ascended, and there’s nothing the devil can do about it. But the devil isn’t going to leave it alone. Since he can’t attack Jesus in His person, He attacks the Body of Christ, the Church. He has come down in wrath, and Peter says he’s like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. As soon as you were joined to Jesus, the devil took up his attack against you. Luther says that when a child is baptized—or, really, any person—we hang around that child’s neck a life-long enemy. If you don’t belong to Jesus, and you have no interest in being where Jesus is, what does the devil have to do with you? He doesn’t care.

But if you have been torn from the devil’s kingdom and planted firmly in the Kingdom of God, then the devil certainly has a stake in what happens. He doesn’t care about you; he just wants to tear you from Christ. And baptism is the first and ongoing salvo in a life-long battle. Baptism is the declaration of war on your behalf. Before you confess the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you deny the devil. I renounce the devil. I renounce all his works. I renounce all his ways. And then, I confess God the Father. I confess God the Son. I confess God the Holy Spirit.

Now stand firm in that baptismal faith, Paul says. Get ready for the fight. Put on the right armor. Since this is not an enemy whom you can see, who is shooting at you, or bombing you, or trying to kill your body, you need a different kind of armor and a different kind of weapon. You need armor that defends against the attacks of the devil, and weapons that can fight against him. Metal, Kevlar, guns, tanks, bombs, and armies will not help you. Political power and enough votes won’t help you. You need the armor of God: truth, and righteousness, and faith, and salvation, and the Gospel, and the words of God. This is what defends you and fights against the devil.

We cannot forget that we are not fighting against flesh and blood, against other people, for all of whom Christ died. Even if they hate us or fight against us or kill us, what does that have to do with Jesus? They can kill our bodies, but not our souls. They can take all our freedoms, rights, privileges, and tax exemptions, and it has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus’ words. The devil may use all the means at his disposal, including persecution, but he knows that he really can’t take away what is most necessary, which is Christ and His Word.

So don’t get distracted. See the battle clearly: the devil can take everything else away, but what he really wants to do is take you from Jesus and Jesus from you. Let’s not miss the real battle, just because we can’t see it. Don’t mistake all the political skirmishes for the real goal. If we know our rights and our constitution and the laws better than we know the words of Jesus, we ought to be ashamed. All those things are passing away. You know God can get rid of any ruler and any nation whenever He wants to. All these things are temporary, so don’t get distracted from the eternal things. Nothing in this world, nothing that is of flesh and blood, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is Jesus Christ our Lord. That is where the real battle is, and so we need the real armor.

The devil thinks he can tear you away from Jesus. And he doesn’t fight fairly. Paul speaks of the cunning of the devil, the scheming of the devil. He doesn’t appear before us with horns and a tail and a pitchfork, saying, “I’m going to destroy you!” He is much more subtle than that. He attacks all the time in different ways, wherever he can find a weak spot. Remember the goal: to tear you from Christ and the certainty of His word. So the devil will do whatever he can to destroy that confidence. He may even use the truth to do it. Maybe there’s something that a person has learned and believed, and the devil may whisper, “You know that’s not true, right?” And maybe it is not true. Maybe the person comes to discover that something he believed is untrue. But the devil doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say, well, what about everything else you’ve learned? Maybe none of it’s true. Maybe Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Maybe you can’t trust what’s written down in the Scriptures. Maybe it’s all a fairy tale. Maybe there’s no God. Are you sure about all those things you learned? It started with the truth, but it corrodes and destroys everything else with it.

Or maybe it’s introducing things that make a lot more sense to you than the words of God. None of that makes sense, he might whisper. Just think about it. Here are some things that sound much more rational and reasonable, don’t they? Don’t they make a lot more sense than what you’ve been taught? Think for yourself! Decide for yourself! Don’t listen to anyone else, even if it claims to be the word of God Himself. You know better. You are a better judge than anyone else. Your experience is a better measuring stick than anything else.

The battle is joined. Gird up your loins, which means that the truth allows us to fight as we need to without getting entangled in less-than-important things. We have the breastplate of righteousness. It is righteousness before God and righteousness before other people. If we live in external righteousness and good works toward others, of what can they accuses us? But even if our righteousness fails, which it does, we have the righteousness of Christ and the faith that believes Him. That is the shield against every accusation and every attack of the devil. We believe the one who has suffered, died, and risen from the dead. What do we have to fear from death or the devil? We have been prepared, made ready, by the Gospel of peace, and we wear the helmet of salvation, which will become a crown. And we have the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Actually, although we do have it written down for us, it is the utterances of God, the words God speaks to us. This is what we fight back against the devil with.

And pray at all times in the Spirit, whose double-edged sword the words of God are. Dear God, how complacent and lazy and heedless of the danger we can be! We live as if the devil is not against us, not after us, not real. At least, if we thought the devil were real, we would spend a lot more time in the Scriptures, a lot more time reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting! Luther says, I fear that our children turn out so badly after baptism because we have prayed for them so half-heartedly. That stings, doesn’t it?

Get the armor out, dust it off, put it on. It is no joke to take action against the devil, and that is exactly what we have been doing. He certainly doesn’t get tired or give up, so neither can we. But here’s the secret, when the battle is hard and the warfare long: we do not fight alone. Our King has already gone out to the battlefield ahead of us, like David against Goliath. And He wielded the sword of the Spirit and struck the fatal blow. His death and resurrection are the assurance that He has overcome the world and is victorious. And since we are members of His body, His death is our death, and His life is our life. The devil cannot defeat Jesus and so he cannot defeat us. We live and we fight and we die, but we will live, and there’s nothing the devil can do about that.

We are taking action against him every time we pray, especially when we pray the prayer Jesus gave us. All of that is prayer against the devil. To pray for God’s Name to be holy is to pray against the devil. To pray that God’s kingdom would come is to pray against the devil’s kingdom. To pray that the will of God would be done is to pray against the devil, the world, and our own flesh, which do not want God’s Name to be holy or His kingdom to come. We pray for daily bread, which the devil does his best to take from us. We pray for forgiveness, received and given, and the devil doesn’t want any forgiveness anywhere. We pray not to be led into temptation, and to be delivered from the evil one, and because Jesus was led into temptation by the evil one, we have our assurance that we will not be.

All of this is action against the devil, reinforcing the armor, sharpening the sword. And however the fight may seem, however many defeats we suffer or appear to suffer, we know that the final victory has already been won by Christ, and the devil will be thrown into the lake of fire prepared for him. So we stand firm and fight, because we are clothed in God’s strength, and in His mighty power, waiting patiently for the day when the battle field will be cleared and we will sit down to the feast of the Lamb’s victory forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/28/21

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