Good morning! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. In the midst of all the hype and advertising images of modern America, it’s easy to forget that the true Thanksgiving is always birthed out of overwhelming pain and difficulty and grief.
Why is it that when things are going just fine, thanksgivings can become so shallow? We start complaining about lumpy gravy and annoying relatives. But when our lives are devastated by grief and loss, that’s when our gratitude becomes most authentic?
I think that it has to do with our relationship with God. Tragedy brings us face to face with our need for God. Something we forget when everything is hunky-dory. When trouble comes, we humble ourselves and come together. We begin to count our blessings rather than complain about missing entitlements.
This morning we finish our study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Over the last few months, we’ve learned some important things about God and about ourselves. The first thing we learned is that God wants to bring all things in heaven and earth back together again.
We learned that when we were dead in our sins and trespasses, God made us alive through the atoning sacrifice of his son Jesus. He made us alive so that we could respond to him and be brought back into a relationship with him and with each other.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph 2:8-10
We learned that these good works involved relationships, loving God and others as he has first loved us. The abundant life we seek is not found in having it our way but in God having it his way! But that’s not easy. It goes against our sinful nature and the flow of the world. Let’s open our Bibles to Eph 6:10.
Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians with these words, “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, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph 6:10-12
Satan tempts us to forget who the real enemy is. When that happens, we start blaming and fighting with each other. He tempts us to dismiss the reality that the real battle is spiritual and must be fought in the Spirit. What does that mean?
Remember Paul is in protective custody in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar. He is chained 24/7 to a Roman guard, but not just any Roman guard. These soldiers are the most elite in Caesar’s army. They came to work spit-shined, armor gleaming, swords sharp, dressed for battle, even though their assignment was to guard this strange little Jewish rabbi.
Paul was intrigued. Through his conversations with these men, some of them became believers. The Roman soldier was the best trained and equipped warrior in the ancient world. As Paul got to know these guys, he realized, God had armed him for battle as well.
“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.” Eph 6:13
None of the equipment worn by these elite troops was for show. It was all functional. The purpose was victory against foes who were trying to kill them. The purpose was to enable them to stand and not run away in the heat of battle. Paul realized the armor of God did the same for us as Christians even though we are fighting a spiritual battle not a physical one.
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist and the breastplate of righteousness in place…” Eph 6:14
The belt these guards wore caught Paul’s attention. I don’t think it was like the web belts soldiers wear today. I think it was more like a weight lifter’s belt. Heavy leather to protect the vulnerable low back and stomach. It had hooks for scabbards and equipment. It was the foundation of their gear. It was like being belted into Jesus who is Truth Incarnate. The core strength of His Kingdom is truth, integrity, justice. Satan’s kingdom is deception and façade.
Next came the steel, bronze, or leather breastplate often embossed with the eagle of Rome. This was an impressive piece of equipment. It protected the heart and lungs. Paul recognized that his heart had been covered with something better. It was the righteousness of Christ embossed with the cross and no attack of Satan could ever penetrate that.
Next came the Roman soldier’s sandals. There were unique in the ancient world. They were leather studded with iron. The tracks left by these sandals were unmistakable and brought both fear and security to people across the Mediterranean basin.
Paul realized that God’s people left footprints as well. But these footprints fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah 700 years earlier. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns” Isaiah 52:7
The footprints of those Roman soldiers are gone. The Roman empire of Paul’s day is gone. But the feet of God’s people who bring the good news of Jesus continue to leave footprints around our world. I can’t help but think about the foot prints of Jesus as he walked the very hills he had created in ancient Israel.
Through the Apostle Paul, Jesus brought a peace that made no earthly sense to some of these Roman guards. No wonder they call him “The Prince of Peace.” That’s what he is!
Paul goes on... “In addition, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Eph 6:16 These soldiers had access to two different shields. One was small and used in hand to hand combat. The other was very large, on a wooden frame and covered with rawhide soaked in water. The soldiers could literally form a roof over their heads to protect them from the showers of flaming arrows the enemy would send their way.
Paul realized the devil shoots his flaming arrows of temptation, intimidation, fear, at us; but God has given us a shield to protect us. It’s called faith in Jesus. The soldiers were taught to trust their shields to protect them. They learned to instantly obey the commander’s order to “present shields”. As Christians we, too must learn to trust and obey the Lord. We need to learn to handle the shield of faith in the heat of battle and the showers of Satan’s arrows.
Paul tops off our equipment with the helmet of salvation. The helmet protects our brain, our eyes, our ears. This is more important today than Paul could have imagined. How do we protect ourselves from the pornography, the lies, the deceptions Satan constantly pours over us in our modern culture? We must keep our eyes on Jesus who is our salvation.
Isaiah 59 tells us that the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation actually belong to the LORD. That means that the LORD himself is dressing us in his own personal heavenly armor for our daily battle with evil! How amazing.
The last part of the soldier’s equipment is his sword and his communication with his fellow soldiers and commanding officer. Everything else is defensive, but these are offensive.
God has given Christians two offensive weapons as well. Paul says “…take 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…. Be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Eph 6:17-18
A well-disciplined army is trained and required to keep their equipment in top shape. To neglect this is to put the lives of the whole squad in jeopardy. As Christians we are to know how to rightly handle the word of truth, the Bible. And we are to train and develop our skills, respect and defend our fellow soldiers, listen, trust, and obey our commander.
Even though God’s victory over the evil in this world has already been assured when Jesus rose from the dead, there is still a battle to be fought everyday both within us and outside of us. Satan would like nothing better than to see us fall asleep at our post.
Every morning, let’s make sure we are dressed for battle. First, we strap on Jesus like a belt around our waist. We wrap ourselves in his righteousness. Then we put on the breastplate of righteousness – not our righteousness, we have none, but the forgiveness, grace, and mercy of God that protects from the devil’s accusations. Then we put on our shoes of the Gospel of peace so we are ready to travel wherever the Lord leads us. Then we pull on the helmet of salvation that protects our minds, eyes, and ears. Finally, we pick up our shield of faith and strap our Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. We check in with the commander on our communication gear through prayer. And we move out into the battle God has for us today. Paul with this benediction ‘Peace to you, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.