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Dear God, this is our prayer, that you would show us Christ, give us grace now to receive Your Word. Your Word is powerful, but we are weak, and if the Word is to have its full effect, You must make our hearts good soil. You must show us Christ. And so give us ears to hear, and minds to understand, hearts to believe, wills to obey, and may we rest in all that You have for us this morning in Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
I hope that you have a Bible wherever you are and can turn to the book of Ephesians. We are spending four sermons over two weeks looking at the armor of God in Ephesians chapter 6, and this morning we come to the armor itself in verses 14 through 17. Ephesians, chapter 6, we’ll be reading beginning at verse 14.
“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Here is the famous description of what’s called in verse 13 the whole armor of God, how we are to be outfitted as soldiers in this battle against not merely flesh and blood but powers and principalities and the devil himself.
Whenever I run on the treadmill, and I prefer if I’m running to be outside, but if I’m running on the treadmill, or I’m riding my bike up on its trainer indoors, it is unbelievably boring. And so I never listen to something when I’m outside, that’s just an opportunity to look around and see nature and be quiet, but when I’m inside and I’m trying to exercise, I have to have some sort of distraction, and so often I’m trying to find something on TV and that usually means some sort of documentary. And over the years I have watched a lot of war sort of documentaries. I think I’ve seen the Ken Burns Civil War documentary at least 10 times. And a few years ago I was watching through, it’s now, you know, I think it came out in the 70s, but a 22-hour documentary on World War II. I’ve watched other ones on the Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War and World War I, and whenever I watch these war documentaries, I, well, I have a lot of thoughts, but here’s one singular thought I always have: I would have been a terrible soldier. That’s what I think to myself. I think about, you know, I have these thick glasses and I have an asthma inhaler and I just don’t feel very brave. I think that I could work hard. I’d like to think that I would be intelligent, that I would follow orders, but when I see these stories of war, past or in the distant past, I can’t help but feel that I wouldn’t possibly have been as brave or as strong or as fearless.
But just when despair of my, my manliness, I think of two things. One, actually I’ve watched enough of these and have read enough books to know, that actually almost all of them were incredibly scared, too. And then second I’m reminded that they did not go out into battle without a soldier’s training and without a soldier’s equipment.
So when we look at what people have done with great feats of courage and bravery over the years, we ought to be reminded that they had to overcome great fears, that very few people just venture off into harm’s way and great danger and feel just a sense of call. Now, there are those people you read about in history, but the rank and file, most officers, soldiers, they have had a measure of fear. In fact, fear sometimes properly placed is what gives you the right sort of mental acuity and alertness, so they, too, had to overcome fears. But they did not go into the battle unprepared. If they had a good commanding officer, they were given adequate training and if their nation or their military unit had the wherewithal, they were sent into the battle with proper outfitting. And so as we think about the battle that we are facing, and I don’t mean the coronavirus, I mean the spiritual battle that we have been facing and will face until we finally are glorified in heaven, when we think about that battle, the cosmic powers arrayed against us, how the war is fierce and the battle is long, take heart. We need not enter into the fray unprepared. Think of these verses as some of our basic training. How to get outfitted.
I was going to call this sermon, I think in the bulletin it says “A Call to Put On,” meaning put on arms, put on the armor of God. I was going to call it “A Call to Get Dressed,” but given the new normal of staying at home, a call to get dressed may have felt sort of shaming for folks. If you’re getting dressed at some point, you’re going from morning pajamas to afternoon pajamas, it’s fine. As long as you are putting on this armor.
God does not send us into the battle ill-clad and ill-equipped. We have been given the full armor of God. Clothing is a kind of metaphor for character. Actually, this is why the Bible does not treat clothing as a matter indifferent, just a little parentheses here for, for anyone whose, you know, teenagers arguing with parents about what they wear, or you’re thinking that you go out into the world it doesn’t matter what you wear. Look, the Bible actually says some things about what we wear because the understanding is what we wear on the outside reveals something about who we are on the inside. And so the Bible warns against the sort of clothing that is directing attention to yourself in a proud way, or shows that you’re trusting in riches or that your desiring to be known for sensuality. The Bible’s not indifferent. Now there’s a lot of latitude, but not completely indifferent to the clothes that we wear.
But the point here, of course, is not about literal clothes, it’s about the sort of people that we are. Clothing as a metaphor for character.
1 Peter 5:5: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.”
Or the put on, put off language of Colossians 3: “Put then away, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk. Put on then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
The picture there in Colossians is that as a Christian you are taking off these clothes of anger and slander and obscenity and malice and you’re getting dressed with a new sort of garb.
And notice in verse 13 that this is not any old armor. It is the armor of God, that is the armor not only that God gives us, but the armor that is first of all His armor. So this clothing reveals something about the character of God and then we who are hid in Christ share in that character.
The armor imagery comes, for the most part, from the book of Isaiah, where it is first of all the Lord and His Messiah who are said to be arrayed for battle. Three passages in particular, you can just, if you’re taking notes, you can write them down, Isaiah 11:4 & 5, our Old Testament reading from this morning, “with righteousness He shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth, and He,” speaking of the coming Messiah, shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth and with the breath of His lips shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His waist, faithfulness the belt of his loins, so we have a sword or a rod from the mouth, we have a belt around the waist, that’s the first passage.
Second, Isaiah 52:7, “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion your God reigns.”
And then the third passage, which we’ll look at in just a moment in more detail, Isaiah 59:17: “He put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on his head. He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.”
So this armor is first of all the Lord’s armor. What He arrays Himself in as He goes out into battle. There are six pieces to this armor. We fight with truth, righteousness, the Gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word of God.
You’ve probably noticed before that there are five elements to the armor that are defensive, meant to protect us from attack: The belt, the breastplate, shoes, a shield, and a helmet.
And there is one piece of the armor that is offensive, used for attack, that is the sword, the Word of God.
Now they all aim at the same two things, the truth about God and the truth about ourselves. Now, each piece of armor may have a little different significance and the belt does something different than the breastplate than the shield than the sword, and yet we, we don’t want to read too much into the details, because the big picture is what we’re after, that each element of this armor is coming together so that we might be protected and we might be able to stand fast against the onslaughts of the devil.
So if you have a Bible, go from Ephesians back to the Old Testament, and let’s look at that last passage, Isaiah 59. We don’t have time to do an in-depth study on all six elements of the armor of God, but let’s just look at this one Old Testament passage which contains two of the pieces of armor and it will give us an insight into what Paul is doing in pulling forth this Old Testament imagery and using it for New Testament battle.
So look at Isaiah chapter 59. You see in this chapter the story of sin and salvation in three acts, three acts. First, in verses 1 through 8, we have the plight, the people’s plight. So the people’s sin is great. You read in verse 2 that the inequity have made a separation, sins have been hidden from God’s face. Verse 3, hands are defiled and lips have spoken lies. They’re not honest. Verse 4, they run to do evil. Verse 7, their thoughts are bent on inequity. Verse 7, they do not know peace, they do not know justice. Verse 8, their ways are crooked. Verse 5, look at this striking image, they give birth to snakes and spiders.
So if you don’t like snakes and spiders, it’s biblical. God is saying I’m depicting people in their sinful rebellion against me, and they’re like those who are giving birth to nasty things, snakes and spiders. The Lord is against His people because of their sin.
So that’s the first act, their plight.
But then look at verses 9 through 15. Here’s the second act. Their penitence. Suddenly there’s a transition in verse 9: “Therefore,” and you notice that we have switched from you or their, their hands, your hands, other people, to now us. So the prophet is including himself, identifying with the people, speaking on behalf of those who see their sins and bewail their sins, cry out to God because of their sins. Our sins have multiplied.
Verse 9: We want light but we’re walking in darkness.
Verse 10: We want to see but we’re groping around like blind men. We are growling like bears, moaning like birds for justice, but it is far from us, verse 11. And for good reason, for our sins testify against us, our transgressions are with us, we know our own inequities.
Verse 12: We’ve denied the Lord, we’ve turned our backs on God, verse 13.
And so no wonder that God’s deliverance has turned its back on us. No wonder His righteousness, verse 14, is far from us, justice turned back, righteousness stands far away.
So the people have come to acknowledge their great sin, from plight to penitence. And, and I certainly don’t know all that the Lord means to do with these unprecedented times, not only in this country but in the entire world, but surely one of the things that he is doing in bringing us to our knees is giving us once again a gracious reminder and invitation to repent. Not repent of other people’s sins. Sometimes the danger of repenting for our nation’s sins, but first of all to repent of our sins, to come before God humbly, penitently, saying our sins have risen to heaven, and you have a right to be angry with me.
And so here’s God’s people have moved from their plight now to their penitence, and with that we come to the third act of salvation, and that is God’s provision.
Here’s the turning point. You see it in verse 15: Truth is lacking, he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. But here’s the turning point: “The Lord saw it, it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, wondered that that there was no one to intercede.”
So God sees the plight of His people when they come before Him in penitence, and He’s moved that there’s no one to intercede, no one to set things right, and so He decides to go it Himself.
Which brings us to verse 17, which we’ve already read. And so in an effort as our warrior-redeemer to save His penitent people, He puts on righteousness as a breastplate, the helmet of salvation upon His head. There is a redeemer who will come to those who turn from their transgression.
That is the covenant promise you see in verse 20: “‘And the Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,’ declares of the Lord. ‘And as for Me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord: ‘My Spirit that is upon you, My words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring from this time forth and forevermore.'”
So the picture here is that most worldwide drama of sin and salvation, of the plight of God’s people, to the penitence of God’s people, and then the provision for God’s people.
So how does this inform, then, our understanding of the armor of God in Ephesians 6? Remember, the armor is meant to protect us against our enemy. The enemy is ultimately, we read, not flesh and blood, it is the devil. But as the devil works, he works within our hearts, to tempt us, to stir us, to lead us into sin, to cause us to doubt and disbelieve the promises of God.
And so we put on this armor, the armor that the Lord Himself put on to go out and do battle for us, that we might be saved.
And we read in verse 17 just two of these six elements, the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation.
Well, by the time we get to the first century, the Roman breastplate was a breastplate that would be fitted for a man’s chest, would be a solid piece of metal, and then with an adjoining piece in the back and held together by leather straps to protect from frontal assault, from arrows coming from behind. The helmet of salvation, the Roman soldier wore a helmet made of bronze with detachable cheek pieces, a long plate in the back to run down the neck that it might cover up that exposed area between that and the armor on the back. Often a plume would be running across the top, not unlike a Spartan helmet or a Trojan helmet, that many of us would be familiar with.
So these familiar pieces of armor, remember that Israel is in many ways a vassal state and they would have all seen Roman soldiers almost every day of their lives. Certainly if they were any bigger sort of province or location, they saw men decked out in this sort of armor.
And so Paul uses familiar imagery to them, pulling from the Old Testament, seeing it now in Romans in front of them, and he says this is how you are to be dressed as you go out each day.
Now think about it. What is the armor doing? It’s so instructive because this tells us what, what spiritual warfare is really like. That’s it not some of the fantastical sort of spinning around of heads and binding demons and throwing around… It, it’s really no less remarkable, no less spiritual, but can seem to us very ordinary.
What does the devil want? Well, just think about the helmet of salvation for a moment. The devil does not want you to be saved, and if you are saved, he wants you to disbelieve that you are saved. That’s what he wants. He doesn’t want you to be saved in Christ, and if you are, he doesn’t want you to believe and enjoy and have assurance that you’re saved in Christ. The devil doesn’t want you to be saved. He doesn’t want you to admit all that Isaiah saw in Isaiah 59, because the devil knows that if you never become honest with your sin, then you won’t know the real saving power of Christ.
He doesn’t want you to realize what Paul said in Ephesians chapter 2, that we are dead in our sins and trespasses, that we are by nature children of wrath, sons of disobedience. And so he presents to us sin in virtue’s colors. He lessens to us sin. He makes us think that there no hope for sinners.
And so the helmet of salvation is to remind us that God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud.
Think of it this way: The helmet of salvation does not fit on those who have big heads. It’s for the humble, who come with penitence, because the devil doesn’t want you to be saved, and he wants you to forget that you are saved.
In Ephesians, salvation is used to describe not only what we wait for, that inheritance, but what we already have, what has been accomplished for us in Christ.
Many of us are familiar with that beautiful turn in Ephesians chapter 2, dead in sins and trespasses, but God being rich in mercy saved us, made us alive together with Christ, raised us up, seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
So it is the salvation to which we have been called. And which we already in the heavenly places enjoy.
1 Thessalonians 5: “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation, for God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I remember hearing a few years ago a prominent Christian intellectual in this country ask whether he was optimistic or pessimistic about the future of America. Now how would you answer that? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Or let’s make it even more current: Do you think about coronavirus? Hard to think about anything else. Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
Now in many ways, this whole event is just a kind of Rorschach test for what our personality already was. You find people who already tend to see that the glass is not only half empty but it’s draining out, and so it’s easy to catastrophize. You see people who are pretty easygoing and their apt to say, “You know what? This is going to be fine.”
The truth of the matter is, we don’t know. We don’t know. We’re doing all that we can and hopefully we have leaders and doctors and nurses who are doing all that they can. And many, many books will yet to be written someday on what we could have done better or what decisions prove to be of amazing wisdom and good thought. We, we just don’t know.
So how would you answer the question: Are you optimistic or are you pessimistic?
Well, here’s what this man said, not thinking about a virus but just the future in general. He said something to this effect: The Bible doesn’t tell me that I have to be optimistic about my country, but it tells me that I must always be a person of hope.
See, optimism or pessimism can be a personally type, and some people lean in one direction or another. You could have reason in this current situation for optimism or pessimism. What study do you want to read? Who are you following on Twitter? There’s certainly a lot of bad news out there and then there’s some good news.
So we need to cut away from false dilemmas. Optimism/pessimism. Well, if you’re paying attention to any day in life, not just now but any day, you’re going to have reasons for optimism or pessimism, and the Bible doesn’t tell you that you have to be an optimist, you ought to be a pessimist. What it does tell us is we ought to be people of hope.
Hope is not wishful thinking. Hope is unwavering confidence in the power and in the promises of God. You may have reasons for optimism in the near horizon, or reasons for pessimism, but hope looks at the ultimate horizon.
There are many parts of suffering that are unavoidable and heinous. But we’re seeing again that human beings are remarkably resilient. We can endure all sorts of pain, sadness, uncertainty, but here’s what is almost impossible to overcome: A loss of hope. When the brightest days seem to be nothing but clouds and gloom, that means that we must be people of realism. Sometimes it’s the folks who say, “Well, tomorrow everything will be better” and then it’s not who end up being the most discouraged.
So the Bible doesn’t say you have to be optimistic, it doesn’t say you have to be pessimistic, but it says you must have hope.
Because when we lack hope, we are coming to believe the devil’s lies, that there is no one to intercede for us, that there is no strong Redeemer to come again from Zion, that God will not remember His covenant with His people from this time forth and forevermore.
This is what the armor of God is about. The shield of faith, to believe the promises of God, and the Word of God to fight back the lies of the devil and the breastplate of righteousness to believe who you are in Christ and the helmet of salvation to never forget. God does not help those who help themselves, He helps those who confess their sin and admit that they’re helpless.
Remember how the devil works. We saw in Revelation 12. He’s a deceiver and an accuser. So he wants us to believe lies about God and lies about ourselves. And that’s what the armor is all about. When you go into battle this week, and that may be mainly in your home and in your heart, you are able to defend yourself against the devil’s lies and against the devil’s accusations, because you have truth. So when the devil says to us, “If God is a God of love, how could He judge anyone?” You have nothing to fear if you sin.” But with the belt of truth, you hear God’s voice saying, “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man will reap what he sows.”
And we take up the breastplate of righteousness, so that when the devil accuses you of falling short of the glory of God, you stand ready, clad with that breastplate, knowing that God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
And your feet are shod with the gospel of peace, so that when the evil one bids us to walk in resentment and bitterness with our brothers and sisters, we will not follow because our feet are filled with the gospel of peace, knowing that Christ is our peace, who made the two one, and has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility.
And we will take up the shield of faith so we will not believe his lies and enticements to sin, but we will instead choose like Moses to be mistreated along with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin for a season.
And when Satan tries to convince us that God is unable to save us, or unwilling to save us, or that He has not actually saved us in Christ, we will trust that the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and they are safe as we wear the helmet of salvation.
And we will, finally, take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And so we will say, “No” to Satan, “No. There is, in fact, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I am dead to sin and alive in Christ by the Spirit. I do not consider the sufferings of this present time worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed.” We have hope for what we do not see and we will wait for it with patience. We will say to the devil, “The Spirit will help us in our weakness and intercede for us with groanings too deep for words.” We will say to him, and to our own hearts, that we know that for those who love God all things work together for good. We believe that if God is for us, no one can stand against us. We believe that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us, and that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, You have given us a call to stand and a call to wrestle, but You have not called us into the battle without a proper training and without proper armament. Lord, forgive us for how often we have gone into the battle thinking that it will not be fierce, that the warfare will not rage against us, and so we have not bothered to be clad with Your armor. As we go out to face the for this week, Lord, we come needy, confessing our sin, desperate for Your grace, and ask that You would fit us with all of this armor that we might stand strong in the day of great evil and temptation, even then that we would stand. We pray for it in Jesus. Amen.