Communion Sunday – 6/2/2024

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Isaiah 40:27-31  27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?  28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.  30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;  31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. 

Ephesians 6:10-18  10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Standing Firm

Today is the final sermon in our Ephesians series.  John Stott, in his commentary on Ephesians tells us that God’s purposes have been named in the first five chapters of Ephesians and Satan is opposed to God’s plans.  We are going to talk about evil today.  It is real, Satan exists.  No he isn’t a guy in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork but he is real.  The battle is inevitable. 

This morning we talk of spiritual warfare because Satan will do all in his power to prevent us from living Godly lives.  The music in the service is planned around this theme. There was a time when modern society stopped believing in Satan, in evil as an actual force.  It was popular to believe that society would keep getting better and better, we would conquer all disease and all would be well with the world.  The twentieth century with two world wars and the ability to destroy our planet in a nuclear holocaust ended that belief.  Today, more and more people are aware of evil as a very real force in our world.  The bombing of the World Trade Center and the ongoing mass shootings that can occur anywhere force us to confront the fact that we may come face to face with evil at any time and any place. 

M. Scott Peck was a psychiatrist who is most famous for writing the book; ‘The Road Less Traveled’ in 1978. It is his second book I want to mention today. He wrote it in 1983 and called it ‘People of the Lie’. In this book he dealt with the subject of evil and approached it from a clinical viewpoint. He pointed out that “evil” is “live” spelled backwards — likewise, evil is in opposition to life.

Ultimately, Peck says that evil arises out of free choice. He describes it this way: Every person stands at a crossroads, with one path leading to God, and the other path leading to the devil. The path of God is the right path, and accepting this path is akin to submission to a higher power. However, if a person wants to convince himself and others that he has free choice, he would rather take a path which cannot be attributed to its being the right path. Thus, he chooses the path of evil. Peck said evil is not simply the absence of goodness — it is actively hateful and destructive.

Peck started out not believing in the existence of the devil but after starting to believe in the reality of human evil, he then began to contemplate the reality of spiritual evil. Eventually he came to believe in the existence of Satan.

There are two equal and opposite errors into which we may fall when we consider evil, Satan, demons and such.  We already discussed the first one, we can close our eyes to reality and pretend evil doesn’t exist.  Satan loves it when we do this, then he can go about doing whatever he wants unhindered.  Dr. Peck said, “the Devil’s cleverest wile is to convince us that he does not exist,…I now know that Satan is real.  I have met it.”

The second error is to be afraid of Satan and give him more power than he has.  Satan is a created being, he does not have unlimited power.  He is a spirit and does not have a mortal body but he is still limited.  Paul is telling us to stand and fight, he wouldn’t say this if we were unable to fight.  There is no need for a Christian to fear Satan and demons, we have God Almighty on our side. Christ won the victory on the cross, the eventual outcome is assured.  

Paul starts off by telling us to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power and next we are told to put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand.  We are unequal to the battle, we have no strength on our own, our strength comes from the Lord who alone will win the battle. It is our Lord who strengthens us, who equips us, and who fights with us.  

Have any of you ever read any of Frank Peretti’s books? “This Present Darkness,” “Piercing the Darkness”  They came out in the 1980’s. In them there are regular people fighting evil but he also takes us behind the scenes and lets us see the battle between demons and angels that goes on simultaneously.  It is fiction but still an interesting concept. When we battle evil we do not battle alone.

Did you hear how many times Paul used the word ‘stand’ in these verses?   “Take your stand against the devil’s schemes”, “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”  It’s always impressed me the way Paul repeated his instruction to stand.  It almost seems like he was saying, I know it’s going to be hard, I know you are going to want to surrender but don’t!  Just keep on standing.  You don’t have to win, you just have to stand.  God has already won, you just have to stand.

When Jesus first announced his mission he quoted from Isaiah and said he came to set the captives free.  The armor we have comes from Christ.  Victory is assured but the battle is still being waged.  Jesus won the victory over Satan on the cross but the battle continues until He returns.  We live in the in between times of the first and second coming of Christ.  What has been called the now and not yet of the Kingdom of God.  C. S. Lewis used the analogy that we live in the time during World War II between the Normandy Invasion on D-Day and the final victory over Hitler.  The war is won but the battle must still be fought.

When Paul speaks of rulers, authorities and cosmic powers he is speaking of forces that invade the world, our inner world of our thoughts and feelings and our interpersonal worlds where we relate to each other.  These forces want to make us sin, even to destroy us. There is a hymn ‘Before the Throne of God Above’ written in 1860 that speaks of this. Listen to the second verse. “When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin. Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free; for God the Just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me. Our real enemies are the spiritual forces that stand behind all evil and seek to control the lives of people and nations.

There is a balance here.  The devil doesn’t cause every sin we commit. Those who do evil deeds cannot all claim as Flip Wilson used to say on Laugh-in,  “the devil made me do it.”.  We are responsible for our actions.  I don’t believe everyone who smokes has a demon of nicotine!  Jesus said, “We need to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matt 10:16). Again, we need to not give the devil too much power or ignore him completely.

James Montgomery Boice, the former pastor at 10th Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia says that every Christian is engaged in a great spiritual battle and must be equipped for it.  The armor Paul described was based on that of a Roman soldier of that time. Let’s review the armor Paul lists and gave a practical example of its use in the world to fight temptation.  

The Belt of Truth.  A belt is what holds a soldier’s tunic in place as he fights.  In the same way, truth holds together the other virtues and makes them effective.  Satan has been called the Father of Lies.  Truth overcomes lies.  

The Breastplate of Righteousness – The purpose of a breastplate is to protect the most vital parts of the body.  In modern terms, think of a bullet-proof vest.  When we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ we are impregnable.  Satan will tell us lies; that we are not good enough, that we cannot be forgiven.  All we need do is remember that it is Christ’s righteousness that clothes us not our own.

The Shoes of the Gospel of Peace – The military boots of the Roman armies were designed to march over all kinds of terrain and it has been said that this was the secret of Roman conquest.  Isaiah 52:7 says “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings peace.” We need to be ready to proclaim the gospel of peace: we need a missionary spirit, evangelical zeal, preparedness and readiness to carry the gospel everywhere. Each one of us can proclaim the gospel of peace to neighbors and friends.  

The Shield of Faith – Faith is a shield guarding the believer against all the fiery darts of the enemy.  Think of the darts as those little thoughts that come unbidden.  Lustful thoughts, prideful ones, meanness to others, doubts about God’s goodness.  Faith will turn these aside.  Back in 2012 the movie, Snow White and the Huntsman came out.  It’s a very different telling of the fairytale and made quite an impression on me.  In it Snow White is not a helpless maiden waiting to be rescued.  In it she leads an army against the evil queen.  As they approached the castle of the evil queen, they gathered close together and linked their shields together to form a protective barrier against the arrows raining down on them.  In the same way when we gather together for worship and Bible study, we link our shields together and battle together. 

The Helmet of Salvation – This is our guarantee of divine protection and ultimate deliverance.  Salvation is not only the forgiveness of past sins but also the strength to overcome, even conquer, present and future sin.  We are to battle against temptation but we are weak humans and we will fall.  Just like a child leaning to walk who falls again and again; when we sin we need to stand up, ask forgiveness, rely on our salvation and continue learning to walk the path of righteousness.  Perhaps a better analogy is that of a football player, tackled by sin.  He doesn’t quit the game because this happens, he doesn’t let this sideline him.  He gets up and gets back into the game.  Don’t let Satan sideline you in the battle.  

The final armor Paul names is the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.  This is the only offensive weapon in the list.  Hebrews 4:12 tells us  Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  Think of Jesus’ own temptations in the wilderness.  How did he answer Satan’s challenges?  He quoted scripture.  I doubt Jesus had his trusty Bible with him in the wilderness.  He was able to quote scripture because he had lived a life bathed in scripture.  He knew it backward and forward.  Scripture is a mighty weapon against Satan but it’s not like we can hit him over the head with our Bible.  We need to be saturated with scripture and this comes from spending time in the Word, reading our Bibles daily.  Then it can be an effective weapon for us.  

Where does Satan tempt you and how do you fight it?  Back in the 1990’s there was a survey done in Discipleship Journal of the greatest spiritual challenges people faced.  I’m not going to ask you to raise your hands but as I name each one, think if you have battled with it.  Number one was materialism, the desire for more things.  Number two was pride.  Three: self-centeredness.  Fourth was laziness.  There was a tie for fifth place between sexual lust or anger and bitterness.  Number six was envy, number seven was gluttony and number eight was lying.  Do you struggle with any of these sins?  I know I do.  

They also asked people when temptation was stronger.  81% said when they had neglected their time with God and 51% said when they were physically tired.  Let us learn from this.  Spend time in prayer every day.  Paul tells us to pray in the Spirit at all times.  Just as any army will train for combat, prayer both strengthens us and is a major weapon in the battle.  Being physically tired may seem a small thing but keep Satan will attack you through both physical tiredness and sickness.  Try to keep yourself in good health and get proper rest.  Seems too simple but it helps.

Of those in the survey who fought against temptation and were able to resist 84% said they were able to accomplish this through prayer, 76% said by avoiding compromising situations, 66% said through Bible study and 52% through accountability groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  These are all ways to fight temptation.  A recovering alcoholic knows better than to walk into a bar.  We are all recovering sinners.  Whatever your area of weakness may be, avoid those situations and stay accountable to another Christian friend when you battle serious temptation.  

Remember our reading from Isaiah this morning?  There seems to be some differences in how the Lord renews our strength.  Sometimes we are filled with strength, able to mount up with wings like eagles, fly above all the evil that assaults us.  Other times we can run and not be weary.  Do you remember what it was like to run as a child?  Just run and run as far and as fast as you wanted.  Or maybe think of a marathon runner who trains to run farther and faster than other runners.  Sometimes the Lord strengthens us enough to run like this and we can outrun the evil.  Sometimes it is all we can do to walk, to keep putting one foot in front of the other and not faint, not lie down and give up.  There are times when all we need do to overcome evil is to keep on walking.  Then there are times when the evil is strong, it seems to almost overwhelm us, this is when we are to stand.  That’s all we have to do, we just have to stand, stay on our feet and not get knocked over.  Isaiah and Paul both tell us the strength will come from the Lord when we need it.  “The highway of life is strewn with the wreckage of Christians who never discovered how to combat “the wicked one.””  They depended on their own moral strength.  Don’t be one of those.  Use the armor God has given you and remember the battle belongs to the Lord.  

Let us rise and sing “The Battle Belongs to the Lord” which you will find at the back of your bulletin.