Omaha beach, June 6, 1944. While the invasion landings on other beaches had gone on smoothly, at Omaha progress had slowed to nearly a halt. The coastline was defended by concrete bunkers with gun barrels hidden behind small portholes. The boats came to the beach and let the men out right under the muzzles of enemy guns. The men on beach were shattered, frustrated. How do you fight an enemy you can't see? Many invasion soldiers reported not shooting their gun at all that day because they saw nothing to shoot at. And yet at the end of the day the invasion was successful. The enemy abandoned the shoreline and never regained it, and the first step to liberate western Europe had been taken, at the cost of many lives.
The Epistle for today warns the Christian of an enemy we can't see, but yet we must fight. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. That means we are in a battle every day of our lives, but we can't see our enemy. We are fighting in his territory, this world of which he is prince. Every day a battle is going on into which all of us have been thrust.
Unlike D-Day, this battle is not a massive invasion. It a defensive action. The Lord wants us to stand our ground when the day of evil comes. He has given us the promised land. He does not want us to be driven from it. The promised land is the place he has led us. Through the right preaching of his word he came to us and called us to be his people. He showed us the picture of his love for us, the Son of God hanging on a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He showed us that he is a just God, demanding holiness and righteousness from all that he has created. But he also showed us that he is a merciful God, taking the punishment for wrong and giving us the holiness of Jesus. Through baptism he washed us clean and put his name on us. Through the heavenly mannah he continues to feed us, sustaining our faith that we may inhabit the land of promise.
But there are continual battles with evil. God commands his people to defend themselves with the armor he provides. He has led us to his grace and told us to hold this ground. It will be difficult, but he has put everything we need right in our hands to defend us.
We sometimes think we can fight the battle our own way. We may be tempted to devise weapons of our own against evil. These will not help us. We should never lash out against other people as if they were the real enemy. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, not our neighbor whom we are commanded to love.
One result of the anti-war movement of the sixties is that many churches no longer sing the songs of Christian warfare. The difference is that we are not fighting against people, but against hidden evil spirits in the world. The devil wants us to forget we have an enemy so he can control us. But God has told us to stand and fight.
God instructs us to put on the armor of God that he has provided. What is this armor? First there is the belt of truth. No matter how bad the situation gets, we remain grounded in the truth of who Jesus Christ is, our Lord, our savior, the true divine person of God come down to earth in the body of a man to offer himself up for our salvation. Together as true God and true man Jesus reigns today from heaven over his church.
The world tells us that there is no truth. In this postmodern world we are led to believe that there is no one belief that can claim to be true against those that oppose it. Jesus says "I am the truth. I am the only true way to the Father." We must at all times hold to Jesus as the truth. He is not one among many.
The armor of God includes the breastplate of righteousness. In ancient armor the breastplate protected the vital organs. Today policemen wear body armor on their chests.
Righteousness is a blameless life lived according to the demands and decrees of God. We must remember that it is not our own righteousness that we wear against the devil. It is a borrowed righteousness that we are strapped into. The Bible says there is no one who is righteous, not even one (RO 3:10). But that there is now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Christ Jesus. (3:21-22) We have not lived according to God's demands, but the righteousness of Jesus, given to us, is our protection against the devil's attack. With Christ's righteousness as our breastplate we can say, depart from me, you miserable devil. You have no claim on me.
An army can travel only as far as its feet will carry them. At least that's the way it used to be before motor vehicles were invented. Soldier had to have boots. The armor of God includes the footwear of peace. The peace of God enables us to stand up to the enemy, knowing that no matter what happens in the battle of life, we will not be knocked down. The first example of peace in the life of Jesus comes when on Christmas the angels announced to the shepherds, "Do not fear. Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth." Perhaps the greatest example of the peace of God is given by Jesus to his disciples on the day he rose from the dead. They were locked away, afraid of the enemy, and Jesus came to them and said, "Peace to you." It is that same peace of the Lord we receive from the altar of our church. God commands us to defend ourselves by putting on the shoes of peace.
We are also to take up the shield of faith. It is not enough to know about Christianity, as they study it at the university. The story of Jesus' life and death and resurrection for the salvation of the world is to be believed by you and me. This belief becomes a shield against the fiery darts of doubt that the devil will shoot at us. Not only does the shield of faith deflect them, it has the power to extinguish them. Faith is the gift of God that allows us to take hold of the promises that God will be with us in the battle and see us through to the end.
The armor of God also includes the helmet of salvation. Before the days of camouflage warriors used to decorate their helmets to identify the troops and to frighten the enemy. Salvation is frightening to the devil because he knows we do not earn salvation. It is given to us by God. His only hope is to tarnish our helmet of salvation so that we do not value it anymore. He brings all kinds of problems into our lives to confuse and frighten us, but all the while we are wearing the helmet that will save us. We must remember who's helmet is on our heads, that is, the salvation from sin, from death, and from the devil that was won for us by the sacrifice of Jesus.
So far we have described the defensive weapons. There is an offensive weapon that we are given. It is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. A sword is a formidable weapon. So is Scripture. The Bible is God's word in it's entirety. It relates the God's intentions for his people. It encourages and strengthens us. It kills the evil in us and it brings us back to life because it proclaims the death of the sinner and the new life of the believer in Jesus Christ.
God wants us to use the Word of God daily. We are not to hang it over the mantle like a civil war relic. It is to be in our minds and upon our hearts. We are to read it, memorize it, sing it, say it, pray according to it, and shape our lives around it. The word of God is the weapon that will win the battle for us. The church is here because of the word of God. And God wants your home to be a place of his word also, so that you may defeat the devil's attacks there also.
The last piece of the armor is prayer. What is prayer? Prayer is speaking to God in words and thoughts. Prayer is that marvelous privilege of having access to God to thank him for his kindness and to ask him for the things we need to make it through this life. Have you ever considered what the Christian life would be like without prayer? It is a good and perfect gift to be able to call our God's name.
Not only are we to pray for ourselves, but God commands us to pray on all kinds of occasions for all the saints, that is, for all people who are in this spiritual battle with us.
Paul asks the church at Ephesus to pray for him. That is my request also today, that you would pray for me, for Pastor Elliott, for all the servants of this congregation and God's church everywhere, that when we open our mouths, words are given us so that we may fearlessly take our part in the battle and make known the mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is your work also, to pray for us as we pray for you.
Belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit. These gifts are all laid out before us. We are called to put them on with prayer, thanking God for the victory in the war which Christ has already won, but whose battles are still being fought in our midst every day.
We must stand this ground. There is no retreat. God placed us here with one command, "Stand your ground." Stand firm then, Christian, putting on the armor of God. Amen.
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