Sermon Notes • December 19

Herod and the Christmas Story

In a little book by Richard Wilke entitled Christmas: The Good, Bad & the Ugly we read, “Across the centuries, Herod the king has become a symbol of evil. We may rather want to forget that he is part of the Christmas story. But let’s keep Herod in Christmas to remind us how desperately we need a Savior in this evil world.” (p. 10, 11) I agree 100%. I don’t like Herod any more than anyone and he seems so out of place in the Christmas story, but he is what Christmas is all about. He is a reminder to us of what is the true reason for the season. Absolutely nothing makes sense about Christmas if we forget that Jesus came expressly to save sinners and Herod, perhaps more than any of the other characters in the Christmas story, exemplifies that need. The shepherds and wise men needed a Savior just as much as Herod, but Herod magnifies the reality of that need.

The Christmas story centers around those special individuals who loved God and were anxiously awaiting the coming of the promised Messiah. The story includes a virgin willing to have a baby in spite of the shame that being pregnant out of wedlock would bring and boldly declaring that it should be done unto her as God said. Joseph discovered the woman to whom he was engaged was pregnant. He normally would have broken off the marriage plans and subjected her to community discipline. But God sent him a message and he determined to follow through on the marriage even though he knew this would impact his reputation in the community. 

The Christmas story is about shepherds in their fields keeping watch over their sheep at night. They represent the outcasts of society. They were the down and out and were despised almost as much as Gentiles since they had to attend to the sheep and could not worship like “good” Jews did. But God loves those whom the world ignores or even despises, and God sent angels to announce the birth of Jesus to them.  They then went and worshipped this child. What would the Christmas scene be like without the shepherds kneeling at the manger?

Then we have the wise men. We really have no idea when they actually arrived and can be fairly certain it was not at the manger. None-the-less none of us really wants a manger scene without them. They are always there. They came, they brought interesting gifts and they too worshipped Jesus.

That is what Christmas is all about for most of us. When we think of Christmas, we think of those who were obedient and came to the manger to worship the newborn child. That is the way it is supposed to be and the way we want it to be at Christmas.

Then Herod enters the story. and we really wish he did not. But it is in the story. and it is a vital part of it. In fact, it may be one of the central truths of the story. It should help us put the whole account into the perspective that God wants us to have at Christmas.

Perhaps it would be good to give a little background on Herod since the more we know about him the uglier he becomes. That makes him a more significant picture of what Christmas is all about.

Herod was born in what we know today as the Sinai desert. Technically he was a descendant of Abraham, but he was so through Esau and therefore an Edomite, or as they had come to be known by the time of the New Testament an Idumaean. The Edomites had always been a problem to the Jewish people. About 100 years before Jesus was born the Jewish people conquered them and forced them to become Jews, although they generally did not practice Judaism seriously. 

The story of Herod’s rise to power and his ability to remain in power is the sort of thing soap operas are made of. His father, also named Herod, was the first of the family to rule in Israel. When Herod #1 was poisoned. our Herod was named as his successor. He married the daughter of the High Priest and that initially helped to solidify his power. Later he married a slew of other wives all designed to ensure him greater power. Herod appointed his first wife’s brother to an important position but later arranged to have him killed. Then Herod’s sister told him this wife was sleeping with an uncle so, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Herod had that wife put to death.

It went from bad to worse and in time to ugly. Herod, while being paranoid, was determined to be sure he had absolute control over everything. Any important individual who might challenge him was put to death. He instituted several heavy taxes that enabled him to send significant contributions to Rome which kept him in good with them, but that made him even more unpopular with the Jews. Any rebellion was quashed.

Perhaps to appease the Jews but more likely to build himself up, he re-built the temple making it a magnificent place of worship. It was that temple that Jesus worshipped in when He lived among us. Then to appease the Romans Herod had a golden eagle built that he put in front of the temple. That of course offended the Jews. A group tore down the eagle and Herod had some young men seized and dragged to the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” near Jericho and burned alive there. 

The list of his activities that offended the Jews and pleased the Romans goes on and on. He built a seaport to encourage Roman trade and named it after Caesar. He built an amphitheater to encourage Roman games that offended Jews. His life was characterized by insecurity, fear, brutality, and defiance of the Jewish people. The older he got the more paranoid he became. As he approached his death, he ordered the arrest of hundreds of leading men from every community and gave the order that they were all to be put to death the moment word was received of his death. His reason? He believed that then Israel would be in tears at his death, even if those tears where not for him. His sister repealed that order when he died.

It is against that background that Wilke says, “Across the centuries, Herod the king has become a symbol of evil. We may rather want to forget that he is part of the Christmas story. But let’s keep Herod in Christmas to remind us how desperately we need a Savior in this evil world.”

When we think of the ugliness of Herod, we think of others in history who probably rivaled him in pure evil. Herod ranks with the Hitlers and Osama bin Ladens of the world. The truth, however, is that Herod represents not only those associated with the gross evil, but he represents all of mankind for God declared that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God also declared that when we have committed one sin we are as guilty as Herod or Hitler. It is difficult for us to imagine that the sin problem is either/or, we either have it all or we have none of it.  Jesus makes all the difference there.

The whole problem goes back to the garden when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and sin entered the world. The rest of the Old Testament proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that mankind lives in sin. If the Old Testament proves anything it is that if man is ever going to get beyond the sin issue something radical had to happen. And something radically different happened that day when God became a man. It was because of the sin that allowed a Herod to be as evil as he was that Jesus came. His very name means Savior and that is the reason He came. 

Herod belongs in our Christmas story if for no other reason than to remind us that Christmas, in the final analysis, is not about good people but about bad people, which we all are. Christmas is all about God becoming one of us so He could take our ugly sins upon Himself and pay the penalty for them. Keep Herod in Christmas if only to remind us that without Jesus all of us are really sinners just like Herod, and that because of that Jesus came to be our Savior.

Sermon Notes • December 5

The Wise Men • Matthew 2:1-12

What would the Christmas story be without the presence of the Wise Men and retelling of how they followed a star and worshipped the one they believed was born a king? Then they gave Him incredible gifts. No one in Israel would have considered it a remote possibility that these men, who were for sure Gentiles, would be invited to participate in the birth of a Jewish Messiah. But Jesus came for all men because all of us as sinners desperately need a Savior.  God made it very clear from the beginning that the Messiah had come to bless all men.  

The Wise Men are an interesting part of the Christmas story in part because we know so little about them.

  1. They are identified as magi from the east. The word “magi” is the one from which we get our English word “magician.” It had a broader meaning in ancient times. 
  2. The expensive gifts they brought, as well as the distance they traveled, tell us they were financially well off. 
  3. We know that they had an idea a king would be born, and his birth would be foretold in the stars. 

That is all we really know about them. 

  1. We have no idea how many there actually were. We say three because of the three gifts. In the 4th century people began giving them names. (Casper, Melchior, Baltezar) 
  2. There is a tradition that they were baptized by Thomas the disciple and when they died their bodies were preserved in Constantinople. Centuries later, supposedly their bones were moved to Cologne, Germany. For a price you can still see those bones. (Want to buy a bridge?)
  3. We assume they were from Persia or Babylon because many in that area were deep into astronomy and astrology. They believed the stars had messages in them. Some speculate they were aware of Daniel’s writings since Daniel lived in what we call Persia today and was associated with those considered the wise men of that community. There is, however, no evidence of that.
  4. We don’t even know when the star appeared in relationship to the birth of Jesus. Matthew tells us they came to the house where Jesus was, not to the manger. Herod ordered the slaughter of male children under 2 causing some to wonder if the star might have appeared at least a year earlier although the trip was certainly much shorter than a year even with preparation.

The Wise Men stepped out in faith and followed a star they believed God had given them, even when they really did not know where it was leading or what they would find in the end. If we learn nothing else from those Wise Men, it should be that we must be willing to follow wherever God leads. God is not likely to lead us in as dramatic a way as He did the Wise Men. He has promised, however, that if we are willing, He will lead us so that the decisions we make and the path we follow are in keeping with His perfect desire for us. Following God does not always make sense but, as the Wise Men of old knew, when He leads, we should follow with enthusiasm.

We know that these men followed that star because they felt compelled to go and worship the one we know was born in a manger not a palace as one might expect for a future king. Worshipping Him appears to have been their only reason for making the trip. They simply believed that this one born in Israel was worthy of their worship. There is no hint that they made the trip for any personal gain. They did not make any requests of Him. They merely worshipped Him. Herod also sought Him out but for the wrong reason. Whenever we think of the Wise Men, we need to ask ourselves what we want in Jesus. Do we worship Him because we want Him to bless us or do we worship Him because He is truly worthy of worship? Can we talk to Him in prayer and not make a single request or is our talking to Him focused on what we want Him to do for us? The Wise Men remind us that He is worthy of just simple worship.

In addition to worship, they gave gifts to Him and again there is no hint that they expected anything in return. They gave to honor one they believed was worthy of their gifts. One can only wonder how much more they would have been inclined to give if they had known the rest of the story. What if they had known that this baby born in a manger came to dwell among us so that He could offer us the one thing no amount of money could secure, our redemption.

It is interesting that Matthew recorded exactly what they gave, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is easy to see them giving Him gold since that was the gift to kings but the other two are a bit strange. Myrrh was a spice used in embalming. We can only imagine that somehow God led them to give those gifts, undoubtedly without them having any idea of their larger significance. It is just like our Lord to take our gifts and use them in unique ways in the lives of others. Matthew recorded specifically what they brought as a way of showing how God uses our gifts to illustrate His love and provision.

Gold was appropriate for a king, so it is easy to see why they chose that. It is interesting that this one born in a barn would be given gold. Jesus seemingly never had the proverbial 2 coins to rub together even though He owned the cattle on a thousand hills and the universe belonged to Him. Did Joseph and Mary use the money to live off when they fled to Egypt?

“Frankincense” was derived by cutting a slit in the bark of an Arabian tree and getting the yellow sap out, much as one gets maple sap out of a tree to make maple syrup. That sap from those trees in Arabia had a special fragrance to it and when it was hardened it was used as incense in worship. Frankincense represents worship. More than any other person born in all of history Jesus is truly worthy of our worship. Read Philippians 2:10, 11.

Myrrh” likewise came from trees in Arabia. It is brown and became the perfume that was used to anoint dead bodies as part of the burial process.  Matthew undoubtedly saw in the gift of Myrrh a picture of the reason Jesus had come to dwell with us. He came to die for us upon the Cross. 

In Matthew 2:12 we read that having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod they returned by another route. Matthew probably intended to set the stage for what follows but no pastor can resist the temptation to point out that whenever we visit Jesus, we should go out via a different route than we came in. Just being in the presence of Jesus should change so much of how we live that it can literally be called a different route. When we come to Jesus properly, we are made aware of sin in our lives.

  1. Sometimes there are sins of commission. We must abandon them.
  2. Sometimes there are sins of omission; we are not doing something we should be doing. We must act properly.
  3. Sometimes we need an attitude adjustment. We need to experience more fully His peace, trust Him more completely, or love Him more deeply. Sometimes we need a new attitude toward others.

Spiritual growth is becoming more like our Savior. Any time we come into His presence we should learn something that helps us to grow. In coming into His presence, we should discover something that draws us closer to Him. When we go away, we go via a different route than the one we came to Him.

In the final analysis Christmas is not about giving or getting gifts to each other but those things the Wise Men demonstrated for us. 

  1. Trusting God to lead them as they followed the star to the one that they knew was to be a King. 
  2. Worshiping Him and giving Him gifts because He was worthy of their worship
  3. Going away from time with Him via a different route. 

In the year ahead may we be encouraged to worship Jesus, give Him the gifts He deserves, and be changed in the ways He wants to change us so we can become like Him.

Sermon Notes • November 21

Sword of the Spirit 

On this Thanksgiving Sunday there are so many things we can and should be thankful for. Ultimately, of course, all our thanks should be directed to the one from whom it all came. Read James 1:17. 

We should be thankful that has God loved us and provided redemption through the death of His Son on the Cross. We don’t have to face the challenges of the Christian life alone. The moment God redeems us He gives us the Holy Spirit to live within. 

We also need to thank God for giving to us a suit of armor that we can wear to protect us from the attacks of Satan. He has given us armor that protects us as we face temptations, deception, fears, doubts, and uncertainties. God’s Word declares that Satan is the enemy of God and of God’s people and that he is determined to do all he can to disrupt our walk with our Savior. If Satan can get us to sin, he will. If Satan can get us to question our relationship with God, he will. If Satan can cause us to be depressed and fear that God has left us, he will. In Ephesians 6:11 Paul called the attacks of Satan on believers “the devil’s schemes.” Read Ephesians 6:12.  

For us as Christians our enemy is too smart and too powerful for us to gain even a hint of victory over him. We should be thankful that God has not left us to do battle alone or to go into battle unprotected. God has provided the armor we need to protect us from Satan’s onslaughts but also to enable us to attack his strongholds of sin.

Read the list of the armor in Ephesians 6:14-17. 

The sword referred to as “the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” was called the “machaira” sword and was a much smaller one than used by an enemy to crush in the head of a soldier. This sword was designed for defense when the enemy got up close and offense when the enemy was being pursued. 

Paul wrote that we were take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. The New Testament uses two different words to describe Scripture. When the Bible as a whole is being referred to, the word “Logos” is used. Logos refers to the total utterance of God, the complete revelation of what God has said. It was used to describe the power or force behind everything that is. For Christians that is God who spoke and brought everything into being and also spoke via revealing Himself and all He expects of us.

The second word, and the one used here, is the word rhema. It carried the idea of specific saying of God. Rhema was a particular verse or a passage that was being applied to a definite situation. The best example of rhema being used in a specific way is how Jesus used the Scripture to defeat the attack of Satan on Him in the wilderness. Satan suggested that Jesus do something that in the end put into question God’s willingness or ability to care for Him. Jesus responded each time with, “It is written” and then quoted a specific passage of Scripture or the rhema that applied. Jesus modeled the use of rhema by quoting a verse that answered the specific temptation of Satan. Read Matthew 4:3-4. The specific verse Jesus quoted is Deuteronomy 8:3. 

It is in knowing specific passages of Scripture that the Holy Spirit can enable us to yield that sword effectively. Satan says, “Go ahead and do it, it’s okay.” The Holy Spirit uses the Rhema or specific verses to remind us that in such and such place in Scripture God said “No, you can’t do that.” Satan almost always presents us with a temptation that seems logical, or reasonable, and is so widely practiced that we are easily drawn into it. But the Holy Spirit uses the rhema to remind us that our actions are based not on what is popular but on that which is directed by God’s Word. What is important to see is that Satan does not back off because we tell him to but he backs off in response to specific commands or promises of God. 

The sword that Christians carry is the rhema or a knowledge of specific passages that can be applied to a specific challenge, be it an attack by Satan or an attack on one of Satan’s strongholds. That means that when we use the Bible to destroy an attack or in battle against Satan, we need to know as specifically as possible where in the Bible the verse we need is found. It is for that reason that we are called upon to hide God’s word in our hearts so we will not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). There are times when we will simply know it is in the Bible. Ehe more effective way, however, is to know the verses we are quoting. It is fine to say, “The Bible tells us not to steal” the sword is more effective if we can say, “The Bible says (that’s the Logos) in Exodus 20:15 (that’s the rhema) “you shall not steal.” The implications for studying Scripture are many. Read II Timothy 2:15.  

Remembering that the Word of God is the instrument that God uses in conflict with Satan or in our witness is critical. Read Isaiah 55:1.It is not self-determination that we stand on or with clever words and subtle arguments that we reach the lost. It is the powerful Word of God that enables us to do both. 

Too often we worry about what we can say in some clever way to defeat the enemy. What are the right reasons to convince someone that something is sinful and has no place in one’s life? What unique way can I tell my friend he needs to make a commitment to Jesus? The answer is clear. Strike the enemy with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Read Hebrews 4:12.  

The more we expose ourselves to the Scriptures, the more the Spirit can use that powerful sword in our life. If we never read, study, or memorize the Bible, we cannot use it effectively.  

Another component of the challenge to effectively using the sword of the Word is to note that it is the sword of the Spirit. We must be careful not to separate the use of God’s Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is essential that we combine our knowledge of the Bible with the ministry of the Holy Spirit. 

Satan knows Scripture better than we do and was able to quote it to Jesus. The challenge is not to simply memorize Scripture so we can quote it but to memorize it so we can allow the Holy Spirit to speak it through us. When the Holy Spirit speaks, Satan must listen. Paul began this section on the armor of God by declaring, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Read Ephesians 6:12. Read what Paul wrote in II Corinthians 10:4-5. We are in a spiritual battle against the attacks of Satan on us and our also attacks on the strongholds of sin including our witness to non-Christians and calling sin, sin. Because they are spiritual in nature, we must wear the entire armor of God. We must remember that the value of that armor is not in simply wearing it but in allowing the Holy Spirit to use it on us.

As Christians we need to begin every day asking God to protect us and our family from the attacks of the enemy. Throughout the day as we face temptations, we need to shoot a quick prayer to God for His help. We must never assume “I’ve got this on my own.” Before we study God’s Word, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to bless our study. As we prepare to share God’s Word be it in a witness to the need of salvation or in an attack on sin, we need to ask God to help us. We cannot separate the armor of God from the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

At the cross Satan was defeated. He was crushed and so he has no hope of a final victory over the believer. We are assured of the ultimate victory. In the meantime, however, our Lord has provided sufficient and adequate armor for daily, present tense victory. The issue is not the adequacy of the armor but the wearing and effective use of it as a soldier who is trained and prepared for battle and is dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

Sermon Notes • November 14

Helmet of Salvation

Ephesians 6:18 reads, “Take the helmet of salvation.” Think about a Roman soldier and the helmet he wore and why such a helmet was so important. 

Roman soldiers wore helmets shaped out of metal. The helmets had a band to protect the forehead and plates for the cheeks. Most extended down in back to protect the neck. When strapped in place, little was exposed besides the eyes, nose, and mouth.

The helmets often included a ridge on top so that some type of plumage could be attached to identify an officer’s rank.  High ranking officers often had gold and/or silver alloy helmets. 

The helmet was essential because the enemy soldiers carried a large broad sword with one idea in mind, killing the enemy by hitting him over the head. The helmet was a soldier’s protection against that as it caused the sword to glance off and do no harm. 

Helmets were not only essential for soldiers in Paul’s day but they are essential for many today, especially those playing sports. 

Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus and through them to us, Take the helmet of salvation.”  Once in place the Christian soldier has a key element of protection that is essential for his safety against Satan’s attacks.

In the Bible the word salvation carries three meanings. First, salvation is used to describe what happens when an individual asks Jesus to apply His provision on the Cross to him or her. The Bible talks about that aspect of salvation as being saved from the penalty of sin. Theologically we call that justification.

Second, the Bible uses the concept of salvation to describe the provision for power over sin in one’s life. Theologically we call that sanctification. Whereas justification is a one-time commitment to Jesus as Savior, sanctification is an ongoing process whereby a believer grows in his daily walk with God. 

Third, the Bible uses the idea of salvation to describe the promise that ultimately the Christian will be saved from this world of sin and will spend eternity in God home. Then a Christian is saved from the presence of sin. That is called glorification. 

Which helmet is Paul asking us to put on? We know it is not the helmet of justification because this letter was written to Christians, that is to those who already put that helmet on. That leaves us with two options. One is to assume this applies to the present aspect of salvation, that is sanctification or gaining victory over the power of sin. The second is to see this as applying to our ultimate salvation, that is when we are in the presence of God, and we are saved from the very presence of sin. 

It is possible that the helmet of salvation is something one wears to protect the brain from the lies of Satan. Wearing a helmet of salvation to protect the brain would include knowing the Scriptures so Satan cannot destroy us with false doctrine. It would include an understanding of Scripture in order to protect us from doubt or depression. When applied to sanctification, the helmet of salvation helps us think straight even in unsettled times such as we are living in today. When applied to sanctification the helmet of salvation enables us to make some sense out of the evil age in which we live. Read what Jesus said in Matthew 24:4. 

It seems best, however, to see the helmet of salvation that Paul urged Christians to put on as referring to the hope every believer has of ultimately being with Jesus in His home. Read what Paul wrote I Thessalonians 5:8. Paul said, “Put on the helmet of the hope of salvation.” This is not “hope” in the sense of I hope it will happen but the biblical sense of hope that is a guarantee designed to encourage us.  Read Galatians 5:5. As used there, hope is that which is so certain that we can eagerly await it. Read how Peter expressed that same hope/assurance in I Peter 1:3. The helmet of salvation is not wishing upon a star but a living hope based on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. 

The helmet of salvation is the helmet that continually reminds me that God loves me and will one day come for me or take me unto himself. There is great joy, comfort, and assurance in that hope. Satan tells us that God does not really love me but the helmet of salvation reminds us of what God said through Paul in Romans 8:37-39. Read those verses. Satan declares that this life is all there is, once you die, it’s all over. The helmet of salvation announces, “No it isn’t, there is an eternity ahead with Jesus.” Satan declares that not only does God not love you, but He doesn’t even know you exist. Satan asks, “What makes you think that of the millions of people living on the earth God knows you exist?” The helmet of salvation declares, “Not only does God love you but there is nothing that can ever separate you from the love of God”.

Read I John 3:12 where John expressed the reality given when we wear helmet of salvation that assures us that we belong to God this way. 

Read how Paul expressed that certainty in Philippians 1:6. The helmet of salvation reminds us of that great truth.

Unfortunately, we only think about heaven when we think about death. At a funeral we hear the promise of God that our loved one is heaven with Jesus. Whenever we think about our own death, we take comfort in the belief that to be absent from the body is to immediately be with the Lord. The helmet of salvation, however, is designed to remind us constantly that this world is not our home. Because of our salvation we are more than just on the winning side but we are on the side where everything works for good. Read Romans 8:28. 

We must never lose sight of how important the resurrection of Jesus is to Christian theology and the implication of His resurrection for us. In I Corinthians 15 Paul wrote that the resurrection is important for 4 reasons:

  1. It demonstrates who Jesus is and what He came to do. 
  2. It shows that since God raised Him from the dead that proves that the sacrifice of Jesus was acceptable so we can know that we can be forgiven. 
  3. It means that He lives to be with us today and can keep His promise to never leave or forsake us. 
  4. It assures us of the ultimate victory over death. 

The truth of the resurrection must be a part of our thinking.

The reality of the resurrection is a major truth/promise that should encourage us continually as we step out in faith and seek to live for Jesus in a world that is ruled by God’s enemy, Satan.

Satan whispers that because this life is all there is to our existence, we are missing out on what he calls the fun things. The helmet of salvation reminds us that this is not all there is. An eternity awaits, and we live our daily lives not just for today but with that eternity in mind.

Satan tells us that what matters is the quality of life here and now so gather and store up here. Satan urges us to count out wealth by the size of our toys and bank account. The helmet of salvation reminds us of what Jesus declared in Matthew 6:19-20. Read those verses. 

Put on the helmet of salvation that reminds us that in the end, there is no end for a Christian. That reality impacts not only what we await as God’s children but how we live each day in light of the full salvation that awaits us. 

Sermon Notes • October 31

Shield of Faith

In Ephesians 6 there are 6 different pieces of armor. 

The 1st piece is the belt of truth. That piece is a commitment to the fact that God is truth and all He has spoken. In other words, the Bible is true. 

The 2nd piece is the breastplate of righteousness which is a commitment to doing our best to live each day without sinning and knowing that when we do sin, we must be willing to confess that sin knowing God will forgive us.

The 3rd piece is having our feet fitted with the readiness to stand firm and to take the gospel wherever God leads us.

The 4th piece is the shield of faith.

Paul made it very clear that we are to put on the whole armor of God. By looking at each piece individually so we can better understand how each one fits into the overall armor. We need, however, to see them collectively as a package worn by us. 

Read Ephesians 6:16. To understand the imagery of the shield of faith we need to examine the details of a soldier’s shield that served as a model for Paul’s illustration. 

The “flaming arrows” served as the basis for the design of the shields. One of the weapons an enemy used against the soldiers was arrows that they soaked in oil and pitch or tar. As they got ready to shoot them, they would light them on fire. The intent of this weapon was that when they hit the intended target, they would spread the burning tar and at a minimum badly burn the one struck and perhaps even set his armor or clothing on fire. 

Roman soldiers used several different shields, but two were more common. The first common shield was a small round one about two feet in diameter. The primary use of the smaller shield was ward off the blows of a small sword the enemy commonly used in hand-to-hand fighting. 

The second popular shield was a much larger one called a scutum and was the shield Paul referred to here. This larger shield was about two and half feet wide and four and a half feet high and was designed to protect the entire body of the soldier. That shield was made of wood and covered with thick leather. The leather not only absorbed the impact of the arrows, but also protected the rest of the shield from the burning tar. Often a soldier would soak his shield in water to give it an additional barrier to the flaming arrows sent his way.

The edges of these shields were built in such a way as to allow an entire line of soldiers to interlock shields. When joined together, those large shields formed a wall behind which the troops could hide themselves from the flaming arrows sent their way by the enemy. In addition, the rows behind held their interlocking shields over their heads. That protected them from arrows that might rain down on them. In addition to providing protection when an enemy attacked, when they were interlocked the soldiers could march into the enemy like a solid wall. 

For a Christian, the shield is not something made of wood and overcovered with leather but a shield of faith. Of course, ultimately our shield is God Himself, but God works through our faith in Him to protect us from the attacks of Satan. Read Psalm 18:30; Psalm 28:7; and Proverbs 30:5. 

While God is our ultimate shield, here Paul called on us as Christians to put on faith. In the Bible the term “faith” has three different uses. 

  1. The first it used to describe the body of truths that the make up our belief system. That is the way Paul used the word earlier in his letter to the Ephesians (4:13). Read Hebrews 11:6.
  2. The second biblical use of the word “faith” is in reference to saving faith. Read how that faith is defined in Hebrew 11:1. Saving faith is the personal commitment that allows God to apply the provision of Jesus on the Cross to an individual. Read Ephesians 2:8. 
  3. The third biblical use of “faith,” and the one Paul is urging believers to put on is allowing our belief system to impact our everyday living. The faith we are to use as our shield in day-to-day life is a faith that impacts everything we do because it is applied to every situation. 

Paul is calling on us to have a daily trust in who God is and what He has promised to do for us. The faith we are to put on is a living faith, a daily trust in the promises and the power of God. Paul presented that faith as the defensive weapon that protects us against Satan’s fiery darts. 

The Old Testament writer encouraged us protect ourselves against sin. Read Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17. If we are going to ward off the attacks of Satan, we must live every moment guided by and strengthened by our confidence in who God is and what He has promised to do for us. Read II Corinthians 1:24 and I John 5:4. 

Satan wants to hinder us from living the life God wants us to live and enjoying the blessings God has for us as His children. The imagery Paul used here to describe his attacks on us was that of fiery darts. The details of those darts will vary from individual to individual. Because Satan knows which dart is more likely to get to each of us because he knows where our shield of faith is weakest. 

To some Satan will shoot the arrow of doubt, to another the arrow of disobedience, to another the arrow of fear. To some Satan will shoot arrows of hateful thoughts and to others he will shoot fiery darts of lust. The list of his arsenal goes on and on, but the aim of each arrow is the same, to get through our shield of faith and inflict harm. If we do not extinguish those arrows, they will light fires within that will rob us of blessings and ultimately lead to sin that destroys our fellowship with God.

Our shield is faith. Faith that lays hold of God’s promises in times of doubt or fear. Satan fires the arrow of fear, and the shield deflects it with the promise that we do not have to fear. 

Our shield is faith, faith that lays hold of God’s power when we are tempted to sin. Satan shoots a temptation at us, and our shield deflects it reminds us of I Corinthians 10:13. Read that verse.  

As Christians we must grow in our understanding of the promises and provisions of our faith, so we are protected against the arrows of Satan. Our victory over those arrows is possible only through faith. If we fail to use that shield, the pitch from Satan’s arrows will get all over us. 

There is one more aspect to that shield of faith that we should not miss. The Roman shields were designed to interlock so all the soldiers moved forward together. As believers we are not in battle alone. We move forward as a team. That means that we are to be interlocked, encouraging one another as we use our shield of faith to quench the arrows Satan is throwing at anyone in our fellowship. When properly interlocked and working as a team we prohibit Satan from attacking from in front or raining down temptations from above. We are as responsible for one another just as the Roman soldiers were in Paul’s day.

Satan hates the fact that God loves us beyond measure and wants to shower the blessings of that love upon us. He will attack us in any way he can, so we miss out on all of that. God, however, has promised to help us win the victory, but He can only do that as we walk by faith. When Satan attacks, we are challenged to use our faith to overcome. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.

Sermon Notes • October 24

Your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace.

Living the Christian life we would like to have is getting harder and harder as society becomes more and more opposed to those things we hold dear. We are living in a day when Satan, as God’s enemy, is seeking to destroy God’s people. To counter that, God has given us armor to enable us to withstand Satan’s attacks and attack his strongholds of sin. 

The 3rd piece of armor is a challenge to translate. The King James version reads, your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.”  In the NIV reads, With your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” You will notice that the NIV makes no mention of footwear. The reason for that is that the Greek denotes a readiness associated with peace but makes no mention such. Translators and commentators are called upon to determine exactly what Paul had in mind. 

The idea of shoes comes from the similarity between the language here and Isaiah 52:7. Read that verse. Paul quoted that verse in Romans 10:15 and saw a relationship between Isaiah and the responsibility of the church to proclaim the gospel.

In addition to trying to identify exactly what is meant by one being ready, there is a more difficult challenge in determining what Paul had in mind by that. The problem is that the Greek tense of the verb Paul used is identical in both the subjective and objective forms. Normally that does not create a problem because the context makes the choice obvious. Here it does not, so you can get two different meanings,  

Let me illustrate the problem. The word “sheep” is the same in both the singular and plural. If I say to you Sam just bought a sheep, you know sheep is singular. If I say Sam has a 100 sheep, you know sheep is plural. The context makes that clear. If I say Sam has a lot of pets including dogs, cats, a cow, and sheep, you cannot be 100% sure if sheep is singular or plural. 

In the Greek that Paul used here it is possible to see his meaning stemming from either the genitive subjective or the genitive objective and the context doesn’t help. What adds to our inability to say for sure what Paul meant is that both possibilities have significant biblical evidence elsewhere to be true. 

Before we look at those 2 lessons, however, let’s assume that in one form or another Paul was thinking about shoes. Go to a shoe store today, and you will have literally dozens of options to choose from. In Paul’s day no such options were available. Civilians going outside generally wore soft leather sandals and when they were inside, they wore what we might call a soft slipper. Soldiers, on the other hand needed something more. They often had to walk great distances over difficult terrain. Soldiers were expected to be able to march on rough roads, climb over jagged rocks and across thorny fields. Their feet need protection. A soldier whose feet were cut, blistered, or swollen could neither stand and fight or advance against the enemy. There are historical reports that occasionally an enemy would place sharp objects on the roadways to delay an advancing army. Once an enemy was engaged it was vital that a soldier be able to stand firm. 

Roman soldiers were fitted with special footgear, wearing heavy military sandals called caliga. It was half boot and half sandal. The sole was made of several layers of leather up to three-quarters of an inch thick and studded with hobnails. The toes were often open. They were tied on with leather straps, wrapped halfway up the shin. For a soldier, proper shoes were essential. His life often depended upon his ability to hold a firm grip.  

Paul, looking at the feet of Roman soldiers he was chained to thought, “A Christian needs that kind of shoe for both footing and advancing forward in spiritual battles.”

First, proper shoes assure us of a secure footing whenever Satan attacks. Notice that Paul wrote that our feet should be “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” Initially it seems strange to think of wearing armor for war and being fit for peace in the same sentence but remember, Paul was using a military metaphor to describe spiritual battles.

When Satan attacks us, he will generally attack on one of two fronts. Satan loves to try and convince us we are not really Christians. That may come in one of several forms. Sometimes he will try and convince us that what we did when we thought we were making a commitment to Jesus was just an emotional decision that really means nothing. Satan will tell us that if we really were a Christian, we wouldn’t act the way we do. 

If I am not a real Christian, then I may as well forget trying to enjoy the blessings I thought should be mine in Jesus. Paul wrote that to withstand that kind of attack we need to know with certainty that we belong to God and, therefore, are at peace with God. Read Romans 5:1. Satan tells us we not Christians. Our heart tells us we are because we have peace with God. 

Then Satan tries another approach. If you have peace with God, how come you’re in the situation you’re in? Obviously, somethings wrong. Satan will try to knock you off your feet spiritually by discouraging you. But if you have the proper footwear, you answer back, “I not only have the shoes of peace with God, but I also have the peace of God.” Read in Philippians 4:6-7 what it should mean to be wearing the shoes of peace. 

Put on the footwear of peace knowing that you have peace with God and because of that you can always enjoy the peace of God regardless of what Satan throws at you. You are grounded in Him. Insecurity leads to defeat, but faith assures you of victory. 

That takes us to the second part of this armor. Footwear enables us to move out. William Barclay, in his study of this passage wrote, “Sandals were a sign of one equipped and ready to move. The sign of the Christian is that he is eager to be on the way to share the gospel with others who have not heard it. (p. 183). We must put on the sandals of peace, so we are prepared each day to share the gospel of peace with a lost world. A faithful Christian is a witnessing Christian. If we wear the shoes of the gospel, then we have the “beautiful feet” mentioned in Isaiah 52:7 and Romans 10:15. Satan has declared war, but we are ambassadors of peace. 

The footwear of the Roman soldiers was designed to enabled them to travel great distances in a short amount of time. They did not conquer the known world by waiting for the enemy to come to them. They took the battle to the enemy. Too often the church today says to the world, “Come to church and get saved” but the Roman soldiers and the early church knew that their responsibility was to go to the enemy and subdue them where they were. The church today should be what the barracks were to Roman soldiers, a place of rest and renewal and the place from which they planned their next strategic attack on the enemy. 

We need to be ready to take the gospel wherever we are called to go. The Christian warrior must be ready to oppose the evil one by carrying the gospel to the lost. This will bring peace to those who are otherwise enemies of God.

Read the instructions Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19-20. That is no small task, but the good news is God has designed footwear to enable us to do that. It is time for the church to take off the comfortable slippers and put on that which God has designed so we can fulfill the commission we have. We have shoes of peace designed to remind us that as believers we are at peace with God and when the going gets tough, we have the peace of God. The world needs that peace. It is up to us to seek out the lost and share with them the gospel of peace.  

Sermon Notes • October 17

Breastplate of Righteousness

Last week we began looking at the various pieces of what Paul called in Ephesians 6:11 the Armor of God. We looked at the first piece which Paul called the “belt of truth.” That belt represented two dimensions of our faith. Objectively it represents our commitment to God and His word. Practically, we are to put on truthfulness so that what we say and what we promise can be depended upon. The two go hand in hand.

This week we are going to look the “breastplate of righteousness.” “Righteousness” is defined biblically as being totally free from sin. Sin is anything contrary to what God desires. Righteousness is a chief characteristic of God who is totally free from sin. To sin would be inconsistent with God’s nature. God cannot sin because His righteousness will not it.

The Bible notes that God cannot be in the presence of sin. Read Habakkuk 1:13. God did design ways for sinful man to behold a part of His glory and live, appearing to the Israelites in a cloud, giving sinful man a limited and temporary view of God. Neither sin nor sinners can permanently dwell in God’s presence.

Moving forward from God’s sinless perfection, we discover that mankind is just the opposite. We are all sinners. We were not originally created that way but because Adam and Eve sinned, we have inherited a sinful nature. Read Romans 3:23. God went further to note that in our sinful state there is nothing righteous. Read Isaiah 64:6. It is because even our attempts at righteousness fall short of God’s standard that Paul wrote Ephesians 2:8-9. Read those verses. Man is totally unrighteous and the only way he can become anything but is through the gracious provision of God.

In the same passage in Romans 3 that spoke of all men being sinners, Paul noted that when we make a commitment to Jesus, God literally gives us His righteousness. Theologically we say that God’s righteousness is imputed to us. In Jesus we are viewed as perfectly righteous. It is God’s gift to us. We do not put it on. So, when Paul urged us to put on the “breastplate of righteousness” he was not talking about becoming a Christian, since he was writing to believers and, therefore, were already clothed in God’s imputed righteousness. 

Paul was talking about our practice as believers. Think about the breastplate that a Roman soldier wore in Paul’s day. In Roman most wars were fought on a hand-to-hand basis with the enemy looking for any opening into which he could thrust his knife into his enemy. A Roman soldier, therefore, wore a breastplate to protect his vital organs from such an attack. 

There were evidently a variety of styles of covering that were worn by the soldiers. Some primarily covered just the front chest while others apparently wrapped around a soldier to protect both his front and his back. Generally, a military battle involved face to face conflict, but it was possible for an enemy to get behind a soldier. It appears some had breastplates designed to protect against that possibility. God has provided for our complete protection if Satan attacks either directly or from behind.

The breastplate a Roman soldier put on was often a woven chain with pieces of metal attached. Others were made of leather or heavy linen, onto which they sewed overlapping slices of animal hooves or horns. Some were made of large pieces of metal molded or hammered to conform to the body.  All were designed to cover the soldier’s entire upper body from the neck to the waist. The purpose of that piece of armor was to protect all the vital organs including the heart and lungs.

In prison, looking at the battle-ready Roman soldier to whom he was chained, Paul thought, “A Christian needs to wear a similar piece of equipment to protect him from Satan’s attacks.” 

Paul, of course was not thinking about the imputed righteousness of God because, as we already noted, that was given to us the moment we believed. Read II Corinthians 5:21.Paul was urging us to holy living, knowing that if we are not seeking to live holy lives, we are leaving ourselves open to the attacks of Satan. The imputed righteousness God gives us what is called a positional righteousness so we can come into God’s presence in worship and prayer. Only obedience to the Lord makes practical righteousness a reality in our daily lives. We are called upon to develop a righteous character that results in righteous living. We are to reflect the righteous character of God in our everyday actions. 

In Ephesians 4, beginning with verse 17 Paul decried the fact that some of the believers in that church were still living the way they did before they made a commitment to Jesus. Read Ephesians 4:22, 22 and 24. That is what Paul meant when later he wrote we are to put on the breastplate of righteousness. 

The Hebrew name for the evil one, transliterated as “Satan,” means “adversary.” That means that Satan is the enemy of both God and God’s people. As the enemy of God, he is determined to keep as many as possible from making a saving commitment to Him. When that fails, his goal is to keep the believer from enjoying the multiple blessings of belonging to God.  

Everyone who has asked Jesus to be their Savior is automatically made a child of God and given the Holy Spirit. But there is much more potentially available to the Christian. Read Psalm 103:2. Then in Psalm 2:3-12 note all the blessings that God gives to His people. 

While those blessings are available to all believers, they do not become a reality when God imputes His righteousness. A Christian must grow in his faith via deeper commitment to God. Putting on the breastplate of righteousness is seeking to live in a moment-by-moment obedience to God.

The life we live either strengthens us against Satan’s attacks or makes it easier for him to defeat us. Satan’s tactic is to disrupt the daily blessings God wants us to enjoy. To do that he focuses on our daily living, searching for some kink in our armor that will allow him to stab us. A soldier in battle looked for a weak spot in the enemies’ armor. He looked for a spot left open when he constructed the armor. He looked for a spot not maintained so it has begun to rust and grown weak. Carefully the soldier examines the armor to see how to best attack.

Satan, who is wiser than any soldier, does the same thing. He looks at a believer to find his weak spots. He spots a Christian who dabbles in pornography and immediately he detects a weak spot that he can use to inflict greater harm. He surveys a Christian’s daily/weekly time spent with God and notices that he skips church regularly or never has time for personal Bible study. Immediately he stabs his knife designed to weaken the believer’s faith and confidence in God. Satan looks at the believer’s friends to see which ones he can use as his knife to cut the believer away from God. The reality is that our positional righteousness in Jesus, without practical day by day righteousness in life, gives Satan opportunity to attack us.

A Christian determined to live a righteous life and to confess sin when he fails is a Christian who minimizes Satan’s opportunities to attack. Satan has no place from which to operate. If there is sin, there is an opening and Satan moves in. He doesn’t need to find a hole from a major sin. All he needs is a crack because we ignore what we might call a minor sin.

Paul urges us to put on the practical breastplate of righteousness to minimize the opportunities Satan has to destroy the blessings that should be ours as believers. Paul would say, “Pursue practical righteousness for even what you think is a small sin is an opportunity for Satan to attack.”

Sermon Notes • October 10

Belt of Truth

Acts 19 records that Paul visited Ephesus on his third missionary journey. In total he spent close to three years planting the church there. For the first 3 months Paul spoke of Jesus in the local synagogue. After he was forbidden to teach any more there, he moved close by to a lecture hall where he taught daily for two years. Six or seven years later, while in prison in Rome, he wrote a letter to that church in Ephesus.

In Ephesians Paul described who we are and what we have in Jesus. He then wrote about our Christian walk in chapters 4-6. Paul went on to note that when the Christian lifestyle begins to become a reality in our lives, we automatically put ourselves in conflict with Satan. The Christian described in Ephesians 1-3 who seeks to live the faithful life described in 4:1—6:9 can be sure he will face the spiritual warfare described in 6:10-20. That is why we need to put on the armor of God.  

In Ephesians 6:10-13 Paul explained why we need the armor and then went on to describe various pieces of armor and how they should be used to protect a Christian from the attacks of Satan and how they should be used to attack the strongholds of Satan.

Read Ephesians 6:14. If Satan is a liar, and the Bible says he is, then we must all be guarded with the truth. If he deals in falsehood, then we must deal in truth. The belt was used to keep together the robe a soldier wore into battle. In a battle a soldier that did not have such a belt would easily trip and fall and then he would be easy prey for the enemy.

The Roman soldiers wore a tunic or an outer garment that served as their primary clothing. It was a large piece of cloth with holes cut out for the head and arms. Ordinarily it was simply draped over the body. For a soldier this presented a challenge. The greatest part of ancient combat was hand-to-hand, so a loose outer garment was a potential danger. Before a battle it was carefully cinched up and tucked into the heavy leather belt that went around his waist. The design of that belt was to hold everything in place and minimize the danger of falling. 

In Ephesians 6:14 Paul told us to put on the belt of truth because truth holds everything together, so one does not stumble. One of the fascinating things about this first piece of armor is that the way it is written allows for two interpretations. First,  it allows us to understand that we are to be held together by the truth of God and second it insists that we practice truth in our dealings with others. One without the other is incomplete. 

We need to know what Paul meant when he told us to wrap a belt of truth around us to keep us from falling.

From a biblical perspective there are 2 dimensions to truth. One is the fact that God is truth. In Him there is no deceit, no falsehood, not even a hint of lying. He is truth. Read John 14:6. 

The truthfulness of God stands in contrast to that of Satan. From the very beginning Satan has lied to mankind. See Genesis 3:1-5. See how Jesus described Satan in John 8:44.  

Satan is a liar but God is truth so when Paul wrote that we are to put on the belt of truth he means that we are to figuratively wrap God around us so He can hold us together. One of the truths of the armor of God is that it is He himself who is our resource. The closer we are to God the better able we will be to ward off the lies Satan throws at us to trip us up.

A second part of the definition of truth is that because God is always truth, whenever He speaks it is truth. That means that God’s Word is truth. Read II Timothy 3:16. There is no weapon for a believer who is confronted in battle by Satan or who wants to attach the strongholds of sin that compares to a knowledge of God’s Word.

In the spiritual battles we will face as we seek to grow in our faith and grow in the way we live out the life we are called up to display, nothing will be more challenging than confronting the lies of Satan. Satan will constantly lie about the nature of God. Satan will try to convince us that God is a God of love who will not judge sin or that God is some being bent on spoiling all our fun, so He has set up rules that are no longer relevant. Satan says it is fine to do all sorts of things that in the end are contrary to how God wants us to live. He will present those lies under the guise of it being our right, being what everyone says is acceptable. He tells us it is the only way to get ahead etc. but God’s Word says something else. We need to know His word as truth.

Earlier in this letter Paul wrote about what we will be like without knowledge of biblical truth. Read Ephesians 4:14.

Want to know what the problem is in America? We are a biblically illiterate nation. We fall for every lie Satan tells. In all honesty that should not surprise us. Read to I Timothy 4:1. We see it all about us and while it is perhaps inevitable as we draw closer to the return of the Lord, we need to be on guard that we are not drawn that way.

We are to gird ourselves with truth, truth about God, truth about ourselves and our sin problem, truth about how He wants us to live, and truth about our future. 

The word Paul used here for truth refers not only to knowing what is true but carries the idea of having an attitude of truthfulness. We are not only to know God’s truth, but we are to determine to live out the implications of that truth day by day. The Christian is to gird himself in an attitude of total truthfulness.

Being truthful implies several things including sincerity, that is no hypocrisy. Being truthful also implies that we are committed to keeping our word. Isaiah 11 describes the promised Messiah that was to come and in Isaiah 11:5 He is described this way, “faithfulness the sash around his waist.” The word the NIV translates as “faithfulness” was translated into the Greek as “truthful.” Because God is truthful it is expected we will gird ourselves with that same commitment to truth.

Read Psalm 15:1 and then verse 4.  God is pleased when those of us who know truth consistently seek to be truthful in all our dealings.

Earlier in this letter to the church in Ephesus Paul began a long discussion of what it means to live as Christians with the command found in Ephesians 4:17. Read that verse and then verse 25. 

One additional key teaching on wrapping ourselves tightly in truthfulness so we do not stumble in our battle with sin is found in what we call the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus dealt with the practice of people making a promise carefully worded so they could wiggle out of it. Jesus condemned such a practice. Read what He said in Matthew 5:37. Our word should be our bond and people should know that whatever you say, or promise,  is true.

Read Ephesians 6:12 on the battle we are in as Christians. The forces Paul wrote about are led by Satan himself and as we have seen, he is a liar and the father of all lies. If we are going to prevail in our battle against a liar, we must know the truth and we must live truthfully. Paul wrote, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” The first piece of armor to put on is truth and that includes truthfulness. Withoutthat the rest of the armor will be all but useless,

Sermon Notes • September 26

         Put on the whole armor of God!  Ephesians 6:1018

Background: In Ephesians, Paul began by discussing what it means to be a believer and take hold of the many blessings every believer should have in Jesus. Paul knew that our faith is lived out in the real world. In that world, there is an enemy, and that enemy is at war with Christians.

The whole universe is a battleground between God and Satan, between God’s holy angels and the demonic world, between those who belong to Him and have thus been made holy and those who still belong to the evil one. God’s victory is certain, but the battles go on and every believer is involved.

By way of review, in the opening chapter of Ephesians Paul described who we are and what we have in Jesus. When a Christian is seeking to live the life provided by Jesus, he automatically puts himself in conflict with Satan. The Christian who seeks to live the faithful life can be sure he will face the spiritual warfare described in 6:10-20. That is why we need to put on the armor of God.  

Paul used the imagery of a war to describe the challenges we will face as Christians. Paul often used military concepts to describe the Christian life. See I These. 5:8, II Timothy 2:3, I Timothy 6:12, 4:7, II Corinthians 10:4, and Philemon 2.  

The message of Ephesians 6 is that there will be warfare for the believer. It is inevitable. Paul’s call is not to war but to preparation for the battles that will inevitably come. As the Lord gives mastery over one area of temptations, Satan will attack elsewhere. We are in conflict with a real enemy. Since we cannot see the enemy, cannot touch him, cannot outwit him, and are not strong enough in ourselves to take him on, we must seek help. We need God’s wisdom, God’s power, and God’s strength. That is what Ephesians 6:10-18 is all about.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12 that we will be involved in a struggle. The Christian life is never presented as a passive existence but serious work to the point Paul could call it a struggle. Just before leaving Ephesus after his ministry there Paul met with the elders and declared they would face persecution. Read Acts 20:29-30. Numerous verses urge us to be active for the Lord against Satan. Read II Corinthians 10:35.  

Before looking at the specific pieces of the armor God has provided for us, there are several things to keep in mind. The war is not about our salvation. Jesus totally cared for that on the Cross. That critical battle has been won and applied to us via our faith in Jesus. If you are a believer, the battle for your soul and eternal destiny is over. 

What is the battle all about? The battle is for our spiritual growth. There are those who claim that once you become a Christian all your struggles are over. We know that is not true. The deeper one goes the harder the attacks will become. Look at Job. Never was there a more faithful man yet never was a man attacked more. Should we think that it is different for us?

Christians can allow themselves to be influenced and even controlled by the demonic world. There are so many challenges and warnings about resisting Satan that there seems to be little doubt that if a man so chooses, he can, even as a Christian, allow Satan to run his life and even work through him. Christians who willingly place themselves where sin is evident, often under the guise of “I’m just here with friends and will not be involved myself” are playing with evil. Christians who dabble in the occult or horoscopes, usually saying things like, “It’s just interesting and fun” are dabbling in areas that Satan controls and, therefore, are placing themselves in a dangerous position. 

Christians are challenged to both protect themselves and take the offense against Satan. The armor of God is designed for both protection and attack. That we need help in protecting ourselves is too evident to be seriously doubted and it is the role of the church in attacking the strongholds of Satan that is too often missed by the church. It is too easy to cluster together in church and pretend we are neither being attacked or have no responsibility to attack the sin strongholds of Satan.

Paul began his comments on the armor of God with a command. Paul wrote “Put On.” That is an order for the soldier who would do battle. The command to “put on” is in the aorist imperative tense, which carries the weight of a military command. Military commands demand immediate and unquestioned obedience. 

The background to this command is found in the situation Paul found himself in when he wrote this letter. Ephesians, written by Paul from prison where he was probably chained to a Roman soldier. As he looked at those battle-ready men, he must have considered the fact that we, as believers, are in battle and we need to have on our armor. Paul knew that to live the Christian life successfully, we had to be as prepared for spiritual warfare as the Roman soldiers where for military battles. 

Paul wrote in verse 13 that we are to take, not make, the armor. It has been fully prepared for us. If we lose the battle, it is not God’s fault but ours. God has provided the armor and His armor is sufficient. We desperately need protection and God has provided all that is necessary. It is His armor that gives victory, not our own strength or ability while we have a responsibility to not only wear it but to develop the skills needed to use it. 

To be successful in the spiritual battles we will inevitably face we must put on the whole armor. We must have it all, not just what we feel we want to wear. The importance of each item will become clear as we examine the details of each piece. Imagine a Roman soldier heading off to battle and saying, “I am not going to wear a helmet today, it’s just too heavy.” 

The challenge begins with “be strong” but one cannot be strong if he is not seeking to put on the whole armor. The Greek verb form of the verb be strong is present-imperative, that is, it is a command to “be strong.” As a present tense verb, it implies an ongoing process, “keep on being strong.” The command is to “be continually strengthened” or in the context of the passage, “Allow God to strengthen us as we put on His armor.

God instructed us 3 times, in verses 11, 13 and 14, to stand. Satan is seeking to knock us off our feet. No soldier that is lying on the ground can do battle.  Because the whole passage is filled with military symbols, the phrase used here carried the idea of holding a critical position when one was under attack. Soldiers do not retreat at the first sign of a battle but take up an appropriate position, fully prepared and determined to hold it. This command means to stand firm and true to the faith, doctrines, and the life we are expected to live. Stand firm and do not move a bit. 

We are called upon to stand firm against, “The schemes of the Devil.” We wrestle against a real enemy. The choice of the word “schemes” is intended to communicate the way Satan seeks to do battle. The word carries the idea of craftiness, cunning, and deception. The term was used to describe a wild animal who cunningly stalked and then unexpectedly pounced on its prey. Satan’s evil schemes are built around stealth and deception.

He is cunning and deceptive. He presents himself as an angel of light (II Cor. 11:3, 1314). If his devices are to be frustrated, then we need heavenly power and protection. Read I Peter 5:8. 

Our enemy is Satan. He is the temporary ruler of this world and totally determined to frustrate God and God’s people. He hates God’s people and will do anything he can to keep them from growing spiritually or advancing the cause of Jesus. As Christians we are called upon to be God’s soldiers doing battle with Him, not by ourselves. Therefore, be equipped with the armor God has provided. Put on the WHOLE armor of God.

Sermon Notes • September 12

How do angels relate to mankind?

The angels have an interesting response to God’s loving provision for the redemption for sinful man. Apparently, there was no provision for the redemption of the angels who rebelled against God. They were cast out of heaven and sentenced to the Lake of Fire. Read I Corinthians 4:9 and I Peter 1:12. Peter wrote that good angels look with wonder upon the salvation that is offered to us and never provided for the angels who joined Satan in his rebellion. 

In I Peter 1 we see some of the things that good angels marvel at. I Peter 1:2 notes being “sprinkled with His blood.” The angels who rebelled have not seen the potential for the cleansing of sin, 

Read I Peter 1:3. Fallen angels have never been offered the new life available to us because of the provision of Jesus for our redemption. Angels marvel that God would love mankind so much that He would enter our world so He could redeem us.

Read I Peter 1:4 and 1:8. The angels marvel at all God has for believers. Angels marvel at the wonder of our redemption while too often we take it for granted, forgetting what it was like before we made that commitment to Jesus.

Although angels do not grasp God’s redemptive provision for mankind, they have been assigned the responsibility of helping with the task of evangelism. In Acts 8:26 we read that an angel led Philip to the Ethiopian treasurer. In Acts 10:1-8 we find that an angel led Cornelius to Peter. In addition, angels will help in the reaping of the fruits of evangelism at the end of time. Read Matthew 13:39 and Luke 15:10. When God rejoices the angels join Him. Do we rejoice over the things that cause God to rejoice?

The Bible notes some of the specific things that God has assigned to angels to do for us. It is tremendously important to remember that any blessings angels provide to us are because of the love of God. Angels always minister at His direction. As noted last week, angels are never to be worshipped nor are we ever to direct prayer requests to them for assistance. Praise for what they do is always directed to God from whom the blessings always flow. The primary reason for noting that angels serve us is to give us another reason to praise God for His care and provision. 

Angelic activity can be divided into two categories, general activity in the world and specific activity on behalf of us as individuals. By way of general activity, it was via the angels that God gave us major parts of the Bible. Read Hebrews 2:2.How the Holy Spirit used angels to communicate God’s Word to the writers of Scripture or the extent to which He used them is not known. We must marvel, however, at the fact that angels, who know so much about God because they are in His presence, were used by God to reveal some of that knowledge to us.

Angels are also used to restrain evil activity. Scripture has various examples. Genesis 18 and 19 record the angelic activity in restraining evil men from doing harm to Lot and in leading Lot and his family away from Sodom. Read II Kings 6:8-17.  

In Kenya during the 50’s the Mau Mau, who were Kenyan freedom fighters rebelling against the British, were all set to attack the Kijabe mission station and slaughter the missionaries and the children who were there. When they saw angels ringing the compound they wisely decided not to attack it. I have talked to Kenyan men who were there, and they have verified that fact. God’s angels were there at His direction to protect His children.

We have no idea how ugly sin would be were it not for the restraining activity of angels at the direction of God. Sin left unrestrained would result in activity that would make events such as the Holocaust seem like child’s play. But God has set limits on sin. Satan is not all powerful and is still accountable to God. 

We have no way of knowing the extent to which God uses angels to protect us. Perhaps when we get to heaven we will understand how often God sent His angels to protect and care for us. There are times when we get a hint that He is protecting us like when we have a near miss of a car accident. I am sure we will discover when we are with Him that He has protected us a lot more than we can ever imagine.

In a more personal way, there is the question of “guardian angels.”  Do each of us, as a Christian, have a guardian angel? Before I answer that let me note that nowhere in Scripture is there any indication that everyone has an angel watching over them. Hebrews 1:14 talks of ministering spirits or angels that watch over the heirs of salvation, which is a description of a Christian. Read Psalm 91:11. Then read Psalm 91:14 to discover to whom that promise is made. Read Psalm 34:7, That is not to say that God does not send His angels to care for non-Christians, especially in response to the prayers of Christians, but it is not automatic. God said He sends the rain on the just and the unjust and He can send His angels to care for the unjust also. 

Do we as Christians have a guardian angel? Historically the church has been divided on that. Some of the early church leaders talked of a guardian angel only for Christians. Some said every soul that is born has one while others did not believe anyone has a guardian angel. 

There are 2 verses that are used to show that Christians have a guardian angel. Read Matthew 18:10. In that passage the angels could be in heaven not on earth, depending on how the Greek is translated. If they are in heaven, then they hardly qualify as a guardian angel here on earth.

In Acts 12:1-15 Peter was released from prison by an angel and went to the house where Christians were praying for him. A servant girl answered the door but instead of letting him in she rushed to tell the others that Peter was there. Read Acts 12:15. In that passage it was a confused household who declared it was his angel, but in reality, it was Peter himself. We are not told there that he had an angel, only that some thought so. 

Elsewhere, whenever there is talk of angels looking over us, it is always in the plural indicating that God has charged many with our care. Angels are available continually at God’s command, but God is the one who cares for us, not angels.

The idea of our having a personal guardian angel is very appealing. It is great to think that I have with me an angel whose sole responsibility is me. If you think you have one, you must be extremely careful how we respond to that belief. We need to guard against giving glory, directly or indirectly, to the angel and not to God. Dr. David Jeremiah wrote, “Angels are sent, but the messenger is never more important than the sender.” 

The second danger is that it is too easy to assume that if we have an angel always with us, we are safer than we really are and therefore forget our constant dependence upon God who is always with us. God is our strength and the One who cares for us. He has not, however, promised to protect us from our stupidity.

Finally, an angel will escort our souls to heaven when the time comes for us to die. We will not be alone. Read Luke 16:19-31. Note that in verse 22 there is no mention of an angel in relationship to the death of the rich man. It is the Christian who will be ushered from this life into the presence of God. 

Angels are God’s servants and because He loves us He directs the angels, who were created to serve Him, to care for us on His behalf. What a marvelous God we have!