Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
A fully equipped roman soldier in the first century was a formidable fighting force. The armor, the shield, the helmet and especially the swords of these soldiers made it possible for the Romans to conquer the world.
The Romans were the superpower of the 1st century and their reach went all the way up into the Rhine valley in northern Germany. The Roman army conquered people by military force and they became part of the Roman Empire, subject to the Emperor. I love the opening scene of the movie Gladiator. It shows the devastating power of the fully equipped Roman army as they go into battle with a Germanic tribe.
As we come to the end of our 4 week sermon series on Ephesians and the last chapter in this New Testament letter, the Apostle Paul, as he often does, ends the letter with instructions for the Christians who will read and hear this letter.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
This is interesting language isn’t it. Paul warns against things we don’t really talk about in our rational, science based world that we are immersed in.
The wiles of the devil. When was the last time you referred to the devil in a conversation? Paul speaks of cosmic powers of darkness and spiritual forces of evil that sounds more like Star Wars than something out of the New Testament.
Yet there it is, right. Paul is suggesting in pretty clear language that there are forces in our lives and in this world that lie beyond rational thinking and boundaries.
And having just returned from Germany and walked the grounds of a concentration camp called Sachsenhausen, seeing how the Nazis killed Jews, Russians, political prisoners and others with bullets, gas and ropes, Paul’s first century language seems more real to me.
It was a very sobering afternoon and I don’t know that I will ever have the words needed to describe what it felt like to be there.
In fact, Paul’s language in this text takes on new meaning for me after having seen for myself what took place in Germany by the Nazi Fascists. How else can one explain this kind of horror and treatment by humans to other humans?
How does the devil weave his tricks in the 21st century?
How do we Americans experience the powers of darkness and evil?
How we answer these questions is different for each one of us and I suspect the cosmic struggles and the wiles of the devil at work in our lives is on a much more personal level.
Into this context Paul instructs us – Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God.
These instructions are a reminder of God’s promise and an imperative; things we do as followers of Jesus.
Paul reminds us our strength comes from the Lord and from the strength of God’s power. In other words you have God’s power at work in your lives so use it, rely on it, and know that it is there for you.
This is the promise in the reading for today. Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Not your power but God’s power.
If you have God’s power in your life and you don’t use it, it can’t be of much help to you now can it?
Put on the whole armor of God. One of the questions I raise in the bulletin this morning is this; in order for armor to be effective what needs to happen?
The answer is simple. You need to put it on. Do you think a Roman soldier would go into battle without his armor? Of course not. Now I’m not a huge fan of the militaristic imagery that Paul uses here but in Paul’s context it is brilliant.
He uses images that his readers in the first century would easily understand.
In order for armor to be of any use it needs to be worn, applied, and used. And not just part of it but the whole thing. From head to toe.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
The belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
This is another example of how God provides for us, from head to toe. This is how God equips us to not only be God’s people in this challenging world in which we live but to do so in the strength of the Lord, not our own strength.
My question for you today is are you wearing all this armor that God has given you? And if you aren’t wearing it why aren’t you? What is preventing you from using these things that God has given to you in order for you to stand firm, to be strong in the strength of the Lord.
If you have ever struggled with forces beyond your control, if you have ever felt like what is going on in your life is a battle or if you are being attacked and you feel vulnerable, exposed, unsure of what to do or how to deal with the situation; check to make sure you have put your armor on. This is armor for everyday use.
The belt of truth – I am the ay and the truth and the life says Jesus.
The breastplate of righteousness – our righteousness comes from God and the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Shoes of peace on your feet that allow us to live out of and proclaim the peace that passes all human understanding in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The shield of faith which covers everything – faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
The helmet of salvation – knowing you are saved by grace and this is not your own doing but the gift of God.
And finally the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. A reminder to us all that the Spirit gives life and power to us as we read and listen to God’s word as it speaks into our lives.
All these things are spiritual armor that not only protect us from the cosmic forces of darkness but they make it possible for us to live and to serve and to be God’s people in a world that is hostile and harsh and in need of God’s light and love revealed in your life and in mine.
God has fully equipped us with what we need. Put on the whole armor of God and don’t be afraid to use it in your daily life.
It will protect you.
It will keep you strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
And you will not be afraid because the battle has already been won.
Thanks be to God. Amen