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Sep 02, 2018

Passage: Ephesians 6:10-17

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Pentecost


The TEXT: “10Finally, be strong in the LORD and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”

In Jesus’ Name. Amen. Recall the milieu in Ephesus. It was a port city. Lots of people from many different places bringing into one city various worldviews, philosophies, and faiths. And things back then were like things today: all over the map. I was presenting some of this to one of my kids about a week ago: whenever you hang out with someone, or go to a party, walk into a house, etc., the person you’re talking to and the people that surround you have a unique make-up. All of this is to say that they will either strengthen your position in your faith and your values, or they will present a serious compromise and threat against your faith and values. Every, single person might be described in terms of concentric circles: #1 The outer-most and most evident “circle” consists of the person’s artifacts, signs and symbols that tell you something about the person, they might have a tattoo, jewelry, religious symbolism, and all of it is meaningful. People make statements in what they wear and what they permit to adorn their bodies. We had an associate member – regular visitor who was a student at CUI not too long ago – and on his forearm was the Greek word for “righteousness” …why did he put this artifact on himself? It was a visual reminder to him that in Christ he was and is declared righteous by God…and – furthermore – it made for a great “in” for talking to others about what Jesus accomplishes for all people through faith in Him! Yes indeed, artifacts say a lot about a person, even before they say or do anything! This is stage one in knowing what a person is about.

Concentric circle #2 are behaviors. What does the person actually do? How do they live? In this category, I would include what comes out of their mouth. From the heart, the mouth speaks, and what we do with our hands, and where we focus our eyes, these are indicative of the next circle. Concentric circle #3 are values (what’s important to a person?) and this leads to circle #4 morals (what is considered right and wrong?). Going deeper, concentric circle #5 will really tell you where a person is coming from if they reveal it: and that is the answer to the question, “What is real?” And finally, in the center of all of these is the core, the heart of the person: it is ultimate allegiance. This is what drives a person…this is what or WHO the person serves. This is what the person lives for. And as you know, what a person lives for is their god…and that’s why everyone is religious…the problem is that by nature, we always choose the wrong god!

But what I’m sure you’re noticing in speaking about these concentric circles is that some of them can be seen because of course they are visible. We can see artifacts. We can see behavior and we can hear words. On the other hand, the other concentric circles cannot be seen. But there’s still a little more to it than that: there is also a real spiritual influence that comes into play. And this is a tremendous aspect to what leads a person to live as they do, and to be what they are. In fact, we constantly underestimate this reality of the spiritual influence.

In accord with our sinful nature, we know what is in the middle of the concentric circles (our ultimate allegiance): it is our sinful self and since that the sinful self is there, there is someone else right along side of that sinful self, and that my dear friends is the devil. Yes, sinful self and the devil are hangin’ out like buddies interlocking arms. And this is our natural tendency. This is how the flesh would prefer to live and without Christ, this IS the way a person lives. Where this gets especially interesting is when in accord with concentric circle 5, a person denies the existence of the devil, but nevertheless as a result – and unknown to them – the devil is in fact setting up shop at the person’s core. OR – and even more unsettling – is when concentric circle 5 believes the reality of the devil and yet deliberately serves his way which translates into serving oneself, because that is what satanic worship looks like…it is utterly and completely self-serving.

Translate that into a person you might date or consider dating; or a potential friend you might start spending time with. If their center core – ultimate allegiance is “me, myself, and I” – then prepared to be used. Oh, the devil puts up a great front…they will get you gifts, compliment you, charm you…and reel you in to get roasted, to be thoroughly and completely used. That is what that ultimate allegiance does. But if the person you are with serves the LORD Jesus Christ, then they will truly love you…they will care more about what you need than about what they want. One will love you, the other will destroy you. Take your pick and choose your friends wisely. Every friend, every person you hang out with represents an invisible spiritual influence. Will they bring you closer to God? Or will they push you further from God? What is guaranteed is that one or other will happen, one or the other must happen. That’s why it matters who you spend your time with!

St. Paul was making the Christians in Ephesus privy to this reality. St. Paul taught clearly that Jesus had and has already won the war against sin, death, and the devil. St. Paul knew the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy: Jesus on the cross of Calvary crushed Satan’s head and this means that Jesus defeated Satan (Ge 3:15). But defeat, does not mean annihilation, and until the Last Day and Final Judgment as Scripture teaches, the devil still prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour (1st Pe 5:8). This can be a confusing set of teachings: on the one hand the devil is defeated by Christ who won the war, but on the other hand the devil is still a threat. How do we reconcile these? Thanks be to God we have Eph chapter 6!

In our epistle – and focusing on verses 10-17 – the word stand, and the word withstand are mentioned a total of four (4) times. This is a major thematic concept for this section of God’s Word. God is commanding us – having received the grace of God in Christ – to stand and to withstand as we stand upon the Gospel of Jesus and withstand against evil through the powerful Word of Christ!

The Ephesians lived in a culture full of the attacks and assaults of the devil. People were practicing false worship and they were adhering to false doctrine/false teaching. And the devil was getting into the hearts of people and impacting them and their ultimate allegiance. People in Ephesus were worshiping Artemis, the god of the Ephesians. This fertility goddess engendered sexual immorality. And here we see how God teaches us: where the spirit goes (your center core), there follows the body. False teaching and false belief lead to a false life. Head, heart, and body go together. Where a person serves themselves, then it is no problem to commit immorality. The body follows the heart, the heart controls the body.

Does any of this seem vaguely familiar with what is happening in our culture today? Depraved minds with depraved hearts are inventing more and more depraved ways to live, examples of which I can’t even mention in a Sunday morning sermon but suffice it to say that immorality is being increasingly accepted at an exponential rate. Increasing immorality is happening faster and faster right before our eyes and the phenomenally sad truth is that our children get the impression that it is completely normal and acceptable. That’s the kicker, and this is the world in which we live. But don’t forget the convergence of spirit and body. Why is this happening? Answer: Because the Word of God is being abandoned and forgotten…it is like letting go of life and going along with destruction. That’s the real problem: losing God’s Word!

Christians don’t go along with it! Instead stand! Withstand! So, let me get to that reconciliation of Satan defeated and yet Satan threatening. The war has been won. Jesus has won the war. He beat the devil. The devil is defeated, and the devil is bound. He is bound in the sense that he cannot uproot the child of God planted in Christ. He is bound in the sense that he cannot take the child of God – you – from the hands of Christ. He is bound in the sense that he cannot stop the transforming power of the Word and Sacraments of Jesus. He is bound and defeated in the sense that he cannot prevail against the holy Church, the bride of Christ. He is bound in that he cannot take the forgiveness of all your sins away from you!

So, on the one hand we can understand that he is defeated…in the sense that I’ve just described. On the other hand, he is not annihilated. He is not now non-existent. He is bound, but he is still real, and he still threatens. But here is how we can understand: he threatens from a distance. He threatens from the position of having been defeated. Think of a criminal trying to hurt you, but they can’t, because they can’t reach you. Why? Because they are behind bars. The only way that you could get hurt is if you go into the jail with them. So, what does the devil try to do? He tries to get at you from afar…he tries to be a spiritual influence…he tries to lure you in.

So, understand that Eph 6 is not a call for you to put on the full armor of God so that you would attack. There is no need to attack a defeated foe. Jesus won the war! You don’t have to go charging against Satan. Instead Eph 6 is about taking a defensive position that stands upon the victory already won…remaining in Christ and His Word!

The full armor of God is not just armor that God gives you, but it is rather God’s armor, it is Christ Himself for you, who covers you with Himself. The victor, the champion armors you in His armor, in Himself! And as you have now been given a living spirit, you are active in living in your new life, so that in this epistle God commands you “be strong in the LORD and in the strength of His might” (verse 10); “Put on the whole armor of God” (verse 11) and “stand!” (verse (11) “against the devil’s schemes” [and his schemes are all about false teaching, false ideas, false allurements, false temptations, false claims that seek to lure you to him and away from Christ and His Word];  “take up the whole armor of God” (verse 13); “withstand!” (same verse) once again “stand!” (same verse)! And then at verse 14 – yet once again – “Stand!” … and then you see the words between the pieces of armor…fasten! Put on! Put on (repeated)! Take up! Take! All of these are the actions of standing in this defensive position that will not leave Christ and His Word! And as you by God’s Spirit do this, all of Satan’s threats will be like a pathetic barking dog, and he will not be able to harm you!

The pieces of armor are great metaphors. Here they are:

  1. Belt = the Truth of God’s Word that Christ has given you.
  2. Breastplate = Christ’s righteousness Christ has given you.
  3. Shoes = the Gospel that Christ has given you.
  4. Shield = the faith that Christ has given you.
  5. Helmet = the hope of salvation that Christ has given you [not a wish-hope, but a certain objective hope…it is guaranteed and the only reason it’s called “hope” is because we don’t see it yet…but its yours!]
  6. Sword = The Word of God that Christ has given you [yes, this is a framing in conjunction with the first piece of armor, the Truth of God is the Word of God and this emphasizes your true defense!]

You take these up with eyes of faith and wisdom! You perceive with eyes of faith the spiritual influences behind what is only visible: that which serves Satan, the demonic realm. So, you never reduce what confronts you and seeks to frustrate you to what is merely visible. Verse 12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This is not “heavenly” in the sense of being in God’s wonderful presence, but in the sense of an invisible realm susceptible to the influences of the demonic.

But the great news is that you know! God has told you! There are no surprises. Satan can’t fool you! And think of what Jesus done about these satanic threats:

Colossians 2:15: “[The LORD Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

And this triumph -- Christian -- has been given to you. The armor of God is an image of your holy baptism into Christ. In the militaristic illustration St. Paul uses we are reminded that in the 1st century, shields were indeed used to defend against arrows, arrows dipped in pitch and set on fire. Those arrows would come flying in against you full of flames. The shields, however, were leather covering wood. And guess what the intelligent defender would do with this shield? They would dip their shields in water, so that when the flaming arrow came in, it would be snuffed out…the water would extinguish it!

You have been covered by baptismal water Christian. You have been put into Christ. You have joined in His death that covered all sin by His blood; you have joined Him in His resurrection which has defeated the powers of darkness, even death itself! You have been washed and you are full of the water that contains the powerful Word of God that sets Satan running like yelping dog! And his arrows come, and you lift your shield of faith in Christ -- drenched in the baptismal water -- you have taken your stand, and the flames burn out…unable to harm you; and unable to take you from Christ!

This epistle, however, is intended by God to grab our attention. Do not underestimate the threat. Know that it is real (remember that concentric circle?), and then stand, stand against it. And rejoice that the Holy Spirit has gifted you with this insight and wisdom. Luther in the Large Catechism: “If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible” [LC V 82].” And in this Sacrament, you receive that “strength in [God’s] might this epistle speaks of: “the Spirit who strengthens the baptized (3:16), and God who has the power to do all things (3:20).” (Winger, Thomas M., Concordia Commentary: Ephesians. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015. 700) In this Sacrament that you continue to receive and in the one you received when you crossed from death to life, you are covered with God’s armor; in this, you are covered in Christ!