“Soldiers of Christ, Arise”

(Ephesians 6:10-18 – Pentecost 15 – September 5, 2021)

Ephesians 6:10-18 – 10Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness 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. 14Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.

Dear Redeemed of God in Christ, who stand strong in the armor of the Lord:

Who is our worst enemy? Is it extremist groups like the Taliban or Isis, who pose a threat to our safety? Is it strong-handed rulers and tyrants in nations who represent competition for world power? Is it those of a certain political bent or ideology in our own country, who pose a threat to our beloved freedoms and way of life? Is it someone we face in our daily life and walk who has caused us many troubles and poses a threat to our happiness and well-being?

Indeed, there are enemies in this world who may threaten our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. But our text reminds us that our worst enemy is not flesh and blood; rather, there is a greater evil power working behind the scenes. This enemy cannot be conquered by man-made weapons, by human politics, or by personal vengeance. For our worst enemy is Satan and all his spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. And they mean to do us more than just physical harm; they seek to bring us down, body and soul, into hell with themselves.

When we were baptized into Christ, we renounced the devil and all his works and ways. We died to sin and his evil tyranny. We were washed by the power of Christ’s blood and raised to a new life in Christ. He claimed us for His Kingdom through the faith given by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are part of a spiritual battle. Satan and all his evil hosts have arrayed themselves against us with bitter hatred. But we stand with Christ, who has already won the victory for us. We stand firm with Him by faith, clothed in the spiritual armor He gives. Therefore, “Soldiers of Christ, Arise”: 1) Recognize your true enemies, and 2) Put on the whole armor of God.

1) Recognize your true enemies

In any war, it cannot be fought effectively unless the enemy is known, so that appropriate weapons may be employed to win. Our text identifies our true enemy: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (vs. 11-12).

The devil and his legions of demonic powers were originally created good angels; but they chose to rebel. So God cast them out of heaven, reserving them in darkness and chains, doomed to everlasting fire of hell (2 Peter 2:4; Matthew 25:41). Christ, by His death and resurrection, has conquered Satan for us and cast down his power. Knowing his time is short until judgment, Satan is filled with wrath (Revelation 12:12). 1 Peter 5:8 warns us: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” What is the goal of Satan and his demonic hosts? They want to separate us from true faith in Christ, that they might reclaim us and drag us down in eternal doom with themselves. They also want to silence our faith, lest through our Gospel witness others might be saved.

Scripture reveals our true enemy; and it also reveals their methods of attack. First, as the father of lies, Satan uses deception. From the beginning, he deceived Eve by denying the Word of God, tempting her and Adam to exchange the truth of God for a lie; and the effect was deadly. To this day, the Deceiver is even able transform himself into an angel of light to deceive (2 Corinthians 11:14). He employs false prophets and teachers to add supposedly new heavenly light, changing the Word of God and its meaning in seemingly harmless ways. But he always seeks the same deadly effect, to lead many souls away from God’s truth and salvation in Christ.

We know the evil foe well as the Tempter. He knows that God has commanded in His Law that we be morally pure, that we seek first His Kingdom and righteousness. So Satan tempts us to immorality in lusts of the flesh, in greed, in dishonesty. He tempts us to put the cares and pleasures of this world before Christ and His Word. Satan will promise us the world in seemingly harmless ways. But he always has the same deadly effect in mind; for what will it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our soul? (Matthew 16:26)

In addition to subtle deceit and temptations, Satan attacks in open threats. He uses evil world powers and enemies of the truth to try to shake the faith of believers and silence their Christian testimony. When we do not march in lockstep with human laws and ideologies opposed to God’s Word, we may face persecution in many forms. Jesus says in Revelation 2:10: Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” We need this reminder; for we are tempted to focus on the wrong enemies and fight the wrong battle. In daily life, Satan works behind the scenes to get at us through people who treat us wrongly and make our life difficult. He knows how hard it is to turn the other cheek, to pray for our enemies and love them as Jesus says (Matthew 5:44). Instead of overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:21), Satan incites us to bear unforgiving grudges and battle plans in our heart, to backstab with a sword of gossip or slander, to shoot arrows of angry and hateful words, to strike out in personal vengeance. How often has the evil foe drawn us into battle against flesh and blood in a way that brought hurt and regret, and diminished our Christian witness?

Then we know how the devil lives up to his name as the Accuser. After deceiving us and tempting us to sin, he attacks with the sword of accusation citing the Law of God to condemn us: “Look at how terribly you have fallen! How can God ever forgive or love you?”

On our own, we cannot stand against the devil and his evil forces. They are too sly and powerful. By their deceit, temptation, and threats, they even find an ally in our sinful nature. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

2) Put on the full armor of God

But we do not stand alone; we stand with Christ our Victor, who has redeemed us for His Kingdom, and united us with Himself in baptism and faith. We stand with Him who has lifted us up and clothed in His own armor of salvation and eternal life. Therefore, Soldiers of Christ, Arise: “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (vs. 13).

The armor described here pictures the kind a Roman soldier would have worn. He would wear armor around his waist to protect his lower body, and a breastplate to cover his upper body; for the enemy would look for a chance to thrust a sword through vital arteries and organs. As soldiers of Christ, it says: “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (vs. 14). When Satan tries to pierce us with his deception and lies, God’s Word of truth protects us from all falsehood and makes us stand firm in the faith. When Satan tries to drive accusations through our heart, to kill our faith by leading us to despair in our sin and guilt, God’s breastplate of righteousness protects us. His Word declares that Jesus conquered every temptation of Satan and lived the perfect life for us; and that Jesus paid with His own blood on the cross to take away all our sins. So God counts us righteous for His sake.

A soldier wore sturdy footwear in battle to give firm footing. It tells us we stand firm: “having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (vs. 15). When the battle terrain gets rocky and trials of life get tough, and we find ourselves weary under a burden of hurt or failure, the world cannot give us peace. But Jesus gives us “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). His Gospel declares His peace of forgiveness, even when we have fallen badly. His Gospel of peace prepares our feet to move ahead, knowing our Savior is still here for us. His Gospel also prepares us to reach out and share His peace with others who have fallen, to lift them up by His Word of forgiveness and love.

A Roman soldier held a shield for protection. The enemy would shoot arrows dipped in pitch and lit on fire, but a shield soaked in water would quench them. God gives us “the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (vs. 16). The devil shoots fiery arrows of temptation, threats, and accusations, to make us doubt our salvation and God’s care. But we are protected by the shield of faith in Christ and all He has done to win our salvation. The waters of our Baptism into Christ quench Satan’s fiery accusations, pronouncing us cleansed of all sin. By faith, we can approach God confidently in any need, guaranteed His loving care. As we continue in His Gospel promises in Word and Sacrament, He makes us hold ever more firmly this shield of faith that deflects the devil’s weapons and renders them useless.

Before going into battle, a soldier put on a helmet. “The helmet of salvation” (vs. 17) God puts on our head says: “purchase for eternal life by the blood of My Son.” This helmet enables us to look over our shield of faith and watch alertly for our enemy. We can hold our head high, even when Satan’s attacks are the fiercest. No matter what threats he may bring against us, even in death, we have confidence; for “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

A soldier wielded a sword to fight the enemy. God puts in our hands “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (vs. 17). When Satan tempts us to forsake God in sin, we can say with Jesus: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve'” (Matthew 4:10). When our enemy lunges at us with accusations and temptations, we can strike back with God’s Word: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:1, 31). How can Satan fight against the sword of the Spirit? “One little word can fell him.”

Finally, a Roman soldier went forward with a battle cry. God has given us our battle cry in His Word and also in prayer. We go forward: “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (vs. 18). Jesus has taught us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). As soldiers protect each other’s back against the enemy, we can pray for each other; we can call in support from above to provide protection and strength of faith. We can even pray for human enemies, that they may be brought by God’s Spirit to know His forgiveness and love in Christ and fight the good fight of faith. We pray that Satan’s evil schemes be defeated and God’s good will be done; concluding confidently: “Amen: it shall be so.”

Now we recognize our true enemies. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan and his evil hosts. Therefore, Soldiers of Christ, Arise: “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” We stand with Christ, who has won the victory over Satan for us, and delivered us from sin and condemnation. He has even conquered the last enemy of death, guaranteeing that we will live with Him forever in His Church Triumphant. He will make us stand firm to the end that we may say at last: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.