The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 5, 2021
Mankind’s Longest War!
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (NIV1984)
Dear fellow soldiers of the cross of Jesus Christ,
If you have been anywhere near a television this past week, you know that America’s longest war is now over. After twenty years of fighting on the battlefields of Afghanistan, after 2,448 U.S. service members lost their lives, after 3,841 U.S. contractors lost their lives, after more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers were wounded— many with permanent disabilities, after spending approximately 2 trillion dollars, Major General Chris Donahue, the Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division was the last American soldier to walk onto a C-17 cargo plane and leave Afghanistan. America’s longest war is over— or is it?
For months and perhaps even years people are going to discuss and debate not only our 20 years of fighting a war in Afghanistan, but how that war ended. Did we win that war or were we defeated? Did we achieve the goal of protecting our homeland from terrorist attacks or are we even more vulnerable now than we were before 9/11? Those are the types of questions that will be discussed and debated from dinner tables all around our country to the halls of Congress.
As I was watching the news coverage of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, I was reminded of what our dear Lord revealed to us in Matthew 24:6, “You will hear of wars and rumors of war, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is yet to come.” Every time we see or hear about people taking up arms against other people— whether it is on a national level or on the streets of our cities— that is a testimony to the inspiration of Scripture. “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come,” our Savior has told us. But when was the last time that you looked at all of these wars and all of these rumors of war and let them serve as a powerful reminder to you that as a Christian you are most certainly at war? That is the truth that we want to focus on this morning as we study these words of the apostle Paul. With the pictures and videos of Afghanistan still fresh in our minds let’s see how clearly this portion of Scripture reminds each and every one of us that we are soldiers— soldiers who are actively fighting in: Mankind’s Longest War!
Paul begins our text for today by saying to you and to me, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Notice very clearly, my friends, that Paul is not encouraging us to depend on ourselves and our own “strength” or our own “power” or our own
“might.” Very literally Paul is telling us, “Finally, be strengthened in the sphere of the Lord and in the sphere of the might of his power.” On a spiritual level we do not have any “strength,” or any “might,” or any “power” of our own. We need to be strengthened. We need to receive the “might” and the “power” that only He (Pointing to the cross) can give to us. This reality is essential to a proper understanding this entire text.
Why do we need to receive this “power” and this “might” and this “strength” from the Lord? Because we are soldiers in the midst of a war. It is mankind’s longest war. It is a war with a formidable enemy. It is the war that began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve, the “crown” of God’s Creation, sided with Satan against the Almighty. It is a war that continues to rage around each and every one of us each and every day. It is the war that Paul describes for us in this way, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Paul’s description of our enemy can easily send chills up our back! That’s why he emphasizes once again how much we need to receive the “strength” and the “might” and the “power” of God. That’s why he tells us that we need to “Put on the full armor of God.” God Himself provides us with the “armor” that we need to fight this war. (Paul will describe that “armor” in greater detail in just a moment.) We need to make sure that we “dress ourselves” with the “full armor” that God gives to us. Wearing the “panoply” of a Christian soldier means that we do not leave any piece of this “armor” behind. We always make sure every piece is in place.
The necessity of wearing the “full armor of God” becomes clear as Paul goes on to describe our enemy. First, Paul reminds us that we need this armor so that we can “take our stand against the devil’s schemes.” Satan does not come against us in a way that repulses us or terrifies us. No, my friends, Satan comes against us by recommending some “plausible interpretation” of God’s Word, a “new way” to understand the Bible that is more “logical” to us and more “acceptable” to the world around us. He invites us to participate in pleasures that “everyone else” is enjoying. He leads us to indulge “just a little” in things that God forbids— with the goal of leading us so far down that path that we don’t want to turn back.
In addition to taking a stand against the “devil’s schemes” Paul reveals to us that we are fighting against forces we cannot see and cannot comprehend— “rulers…authorities…powers of this dark world…spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.” Satan has organized his kingdom in such a way that he can attack us with everything from full frontal assaults to fine sounding false preachers who are actually nothing but ferocious “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15ff).
Because we are weak and the enemy is strong Paul once again says to us, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Notice how and why the apostle Paul reminds us of how critically important it is for us to “take up” the “full armor of God” each and every day. We never know, my friends. We never know when “the day of evil” will come. We never know how the enemy will attack us. Satan and his legions of demons may try to lull us into a false sense of security. Then when they see that we have left our “armor” — or at least some of our “armor”— at home, when they see that we have drifted away from training and strengthening our faith by neglecting God’s holy Word and Sacrament, they launch a sneak attack against us. When we understand that Satan’s only goal is to “devour” us (1 Peter 5:8) for all of eternity, then we see that the only way for us to “stand our ground” on the battlefield of life is by daily “taking up” and using the “full armor” that God has so graciously given to us.
Now look at verses fourteen to seventeen of our text. These are undoubtedly the most familiar verses in this text. This is where Paul goes into detail concerning the “armor” that God has given to us. Remember that Paul was very well acquainted with Roman soldiers. In fact, there were Roman soldiers guarding Paul as he wrote these words. Since there were Roman soldiers right there in front of him, God the Holy Spirit led Paul to “connect the dots” between the armor those Roman soldiers were wearing and the armor that God provides us, His soldiers serving in His Kingdom here on this earth.
The first thing a Roman soldier preparing for battle would put on was a belt. This was a wide girdle-type belt that protected the most vulnerable part of a soldier’s body— his mid-section. It protected the soldier from a sword being thrusted into his abdomen, it helped to keep the rest of his armor in place, and it helped support his own sword. As Christian soldiers God has provided us with “the belt of truth.” This “belt of truth” protects us when our enemies try to use a “sword of deception,” or a “sword of lies,” or a “sword of doubt” against us. Whenever Satan attacks us in this way, we rely on the fact that we have the Truth— God’s Truth as it is recorded for us here in God’s holy Word.
The next piece of armor the Roman soldier put on was the breastplate. This protected his heart and lungs. God has given to us the “breastplate of righteousness.” This is the perfect righteousness that Jesus won for us on the cross of Calvary’s hill. (Pointing to the cross) This is the righteousness that was given to us when God the Holy Spirit created the gift of saving faith in our heart. Jesus’ righteousness is now what protects our heart from the guilt and the despair and the hopelessness that Satan uses to try and defeat us.
A soldier can not march or fight without the proper sandals on their feet. That is why our God makes sure that our feet are “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” The best way for us to avoid getting caught on a “slippery slope” of human opinions, the best way for us to find our footing on the shifting grounds of human logic or human prejudice or human hatred is to have our feet “fitted with the gospel of peace.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ enables us to battle our spiritual enemies and to walk along the journey that we call life knowing that through faith in Jesus we are at peace with the God of heaven. It also enables us to share with others the Good News that through faith in Jesus they too can be at peace with the one and only true God.
A Roman soldier was also equipped with a shield. Here Paul is referring to the tall shield that could protect the soldier’s entire body. As Christian soldiers we have been given “the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Satan will do everything he can to conquer us. He will frighten us. He will tempt us. He will threaten us. He will mock us for believing that the Bible is the Word of God. He will belittle us for trusting that our God will indeed fulfill all of His promises to us. The “shield of faith” which God has given to us is what extinguishes all of those “flaming arrows” that Satan and his demons shoot at us.
When a soldier is actively engaged in a battle, however, they can’t simply hide behind their shield the entire time they are being attacked. They have to look over their shield in order to see and confront their enemy. That’s why every soldier needs a helmet. We have been given “the helmet of salvation.” In the ultimate battle that took place on the cross Jesus secured our salvation for us. The “helmet of salvation” that Jesus has now given to us enables us to hold our head high as we journey through this world— knowing that when our journey here comes to an end Jesus will replace our helmet with a crown! (See Revelation 2:10)
So there stands the soldier, outfitted for war— except all that armor is all for naught unless the soldier is equipped with his main offensive weapon, a sword. The one offensive weapon that our victorious Savior has placed into our hands is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ask yourself, my friends— How often do we go into battle against our spiritual enemies with everything but our weapon? When we are engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the devil, the world and even our own sinful flesh our logic won’t save us. Our reason can’t protect us. We need to use “the sword of the Spirit”! God’s Word is the only weapon we need to not only attack our spiritual enemies, but to also try to rescue others who are still trapped behind enemy lines. That’s precisely why in our Old Testament lesson for today (Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8) the Lord our God warned us, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it.” That’s precisely why in our Gospel lesson for today (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) we hear Jesus condemn the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law when He says to them, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” As soldiers of Jesus Christ we have been given the most powerful weapon of all— the holy, inspired, inerrant Word of God. Let’s make sure that we use it— correctly!
America’s longest war is over— or is it? That is a question that will be debated for probably a very long time. Mankind’s longest war has already been won. The cross on Calvary’s hill and the empty grave in the garden guarantee it. But Satan and his minions are sore losers. That’s why our God has graciously given to us the “full armor of God.” My prayer this morning is that as soldiers of the cross of Jesus Christ we will indeed put on and use that armor until the good Lord Himself promotes us from the Church Militant here on this earth into the Church Triumphant in heaven above!
To God be the glory!