9/4/2018 9:21:15 AM
Be Strong in the Armor of God
Erik Norrie was vacationing in the Bahamas with his family. They had just had lunch, and Erik decided he wanted to go snorkeling and spearfishing so he could catch something for dinner. After he speared a grouper (kind of a fat, roundish fish, with a large mouth and long teeth), he started swimming back and was in about five feet of water when he felt a crunch on the back of his leg. He looked back and saw a shark with a piece of his left leg in its mouth. His wife and four daughters saw the whole thing happen, ran to his side, tied large rubber bands around his leg to cut off the blood flow, and drove him to the hospital. “That was a tough ride,” Erik said later, “I really did think I was going to die.” But he didn’t. In fact, he didn’t even lose his leg. Skin graft surgery helped him keep it, and he recovered just fine
That’s pretty remarkable, to survive a shark attack. But Erik Norrie is even more remarkable than that. He has also survived being struck by lightning. And being bitten by a rattlesnake. And being punched by monkeys. Twice. Erik’s wife told reporters that all of these things have only shown others what she’s always known to be true. “He’s so strong,” she said. “He can survive basically anything.” But the question for us today is: Can you?
Are you – strong enough to survive basically anything life throws at you? Chances are, it won’t be a shark attack that compels you to ask that question. But it could be a heart attack or cancer diagnosis of someone you love and rely on, at an age far younger than you would have ever expected it to hit them. Maybe instead of being filled with lightning’s electricity, you’ve been emptied of a job, a salary, health benefits, and, on top of that, your self-esteem. Instead of feeling the sting of a snake bite, maybe you’ve felt the sting of someone you love confessing something horrible they did that changed everything. Monkeys aren’t the only things that punch a person in the face. So do certain sins and temptations that make you wonder, after the fact, why you ever chose to get so close to those wretched things in the first place. Are you strong enough to keep standing after you’ve been punched, bit, struck, and stung?
Whatever your answer is today, there is one thing that is absolutely certain. You should be. Just listen to two of the first three words in the first verse of our sermon text this morning. They are just one of the more than three dozen times God’s children are commanded in the bible to be just one thing: Strong.
And whether or not you believe you are or have been, there is one more thing that is absolutely certain. And that is this: You can be. If you have ever fallen down; if you have ever been surprised by how weak you feel when you’ve lost something important; if you have ever tripped up on a sin after telling yourself you never would ever again; if you have ever believed it’s no use even trying to get back up on your feet again, today God will tell you something different.
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.
The armor Paul describes needs a bit of an explanation because it’s a bit different than what we might picture today. The belts they wore back then weren’t like the belts we wear today to keep our pants up. This belt was made of very thick material that wrapped around and covered the entire private area; because enemies were known to take their long swords and try to thrust them up through the private parts and into your most vulnerable organs. The breastplate covered your chest so that your heart, especially, was protected. Sandals protected your feet from the rough, rocky ground. The shield wasn’t like a Captain America shield. It was much larger. It was about 4-feet long and 2.5 feet wide so that when you crouched down, a soldier could hide his entire body behind it. The helmet, of course, protected your head and brain, allowing you to keep your head high at all times. And the sword referred to here wasn’t very long. It was a short sword, maybe a foot or two; one that you would need to strike your enemy with again and again before they went down.
And if you had to choose one piece of this spiritual armor that you would consider most important as you face the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of satanic evil in the heavenly realms as they unload on your mind, your heart, and the most vulnerable parts of who you are their innumerable number of flaming arrows, you would have to choose … all of them. “Put on the full armor of God,” Paul says, twice.
Ask an astronaut, for example, which part of his uniform he would choose to be without when he goes into outer space, and he would say, “None of it.” Missing any part would leave him vulnerable to the dangerous, unbreathable space air he most certainly knows is there. In the same way, missing any part of the armor of God leaves you vulnerable to something Paul assures you is most certainly coming: “Put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” In other words, the day is coming when Satan, who is always working against you, will see you in your most vulnerable moment and go in for the kill in your battle with him, when he will look to prove once and for all that you are too weak to stand up to him. And I was reminded about two years ago how difficult it can be to feel like that’s a battle you’re going to win.
One Sunday about two years ago, a 23-year-old named Immanuel came to my church in Milwaukee. I had known Immanuel for about 10 years, but it had been about 9 since I’d seen him in church. And something was obviously wrong. I saw him after church and his eyes were swollen and red from crying, and he wouldn’t look me in the eye. We went into a meeting room and I asked him what was going on. “I’m in real trouble man,” he said. But he wouldn’t tell me what the trouble was. I assured him he could tell me anything. And eventually he stopped crying, but he still didn’t tell me anything. Eventually he just said he was going to go. But before he walked out the door, I gave him a hug – a good guy hug. And then he started yelling at me. “Why are you hugging me like that!?!” he shouted. “Nobody hugs me like that!” Then the tears started flowing again. He began to weep, very loudly. “Why are you hugging me like that?,” he shouted. “Because I care about you,” I answered. “Nobody cares about me …,” he said again and again.
And then he pulled away from me, and he saw the pin I was wearing. I got it from my daughter for Christmas that year. It said “The Armor of God.” And then his eyes lit up. “Pastor,” he said, “I gotta show you something.” And then he took off his shirt. And covering the entire right side of his waist was a tattoo of Ephesians chapter 6. He tattooed the “Armor of God” section, every word of every verse, on his waist. And as he was putting his shirt back on, I asked him, “Is that you?”
“Is what me?” he asked. “Your tattoo,” I said. “Does that describe you? Are you someone who regularly puts on the full armor of God?” Then he started crying again. But this time there was a pain behind it. And then he started talking, and this time he didn’t hide anything. Among other things, he went on to tell me how he makes money. He was a pimp. He recruited young girls to work in a prostitution ring so he could make a little bit of money from what they were doing. After he said that, I pointed to my pin and to his tattoo, and I asked him again, “Is that you?” How would you have answered that question?
How do you? Does Ephesians chapter 6 describe you? Are you someone who puts on the full armor of God, or do you know how it feels to be vulnerable because you left some part of your heart or soul exposed and open? Maybe you don’t oversee a prostitution ring. But do you ever look in the mirror and feel the same thing Immanuel did - shame in what kind of person is looking back in your direction? Have you ever been hesitant to put on the belt of truth, because you know it would reveal something pretty horrible about you – maybe that you put the armor down a bit too easily when it comes to a particular temptation? Or maybe righteous living isn’t the breastplate you wear, but instead the breastplate of convenience; cutting a corner here, ignoring God’s will there, just because it’s easier. Or maybe you’ve replaced the sandals of readiness with the sandals of selfishness; not eager to serve, but to be served, by anyone, at any time, just so you can get what you want without any thought to what it’s costing anyone. Or maybe the shield you hold isn’t made of faith, but of worry and fear, and so you know it doesn’t take long for Satan’s flaming arrows of discouragement to burn right through them. Or maybe the helmet on your head isn’t raised high focused on the salvation of heaven, but instead focused more on the level of your comfort on earth, or tiled very low looking down on anyone who doesn’t look like you or meet your expectations. Or maybe it’s easy for you to put down the Sword of the Spirit, and it’s pretty easy to see if it is. It’s when you can navigate the roster of your fantasy football team or the thousands of available cell phone apps with more ease than you can navigate through the holy Word of God, which reminds us so clearly that you’re not the only one who knows how it feels to be vulnerable and weak. And neither is Erik Norrie.
Jesus does too. Not because he had anything to feel ashamed of. But because he chose to hang on a cross one particular Friday morning, when the helmet he wore pierced his skin instead of protecting him; as he listened to the sound of his friends’ sandals running away, and watched as Peter and Judas were taken out by the flaming arrows of Satan. What covered his chest wasn’t a metal breastplate protecting his flesh, but instead the abundance of blood that kept pouring out of him. And the only sword he held wasn’t in his nail-pounded fists, but instead stabbed deep into his heart by the piercing sting of all the times we don’t trust him or think he’s worth following.
When it came to protecting himself, Jesus showed us very clearly what happens when a person doesn’t. He put down his armor, every piece of it, so that Satan could assault him with the fullness of all his strength and discover that, when Satan unloads on the body of Christ in its weakest and most vulnerable moment, one thing will inevitably happen: The body of Christ will rise again. It will rise above him with an empty grave on Easter morning. Even when God is weak, God will still win.
And if that’s what happens when God is weak, then what will happen when we are covered with the full armor of his strength? What will happen when we buckle around the most vulnerable parts of who we are the truth that God really will go that far to forgive and be with all his children? What will happen when the righteousness of Christ Jesus himself is the breastplate protecting you from the penalty of all your sins? What will happen when you take up a shield of faith that is as strong as the faithfulness of a God who loved us even when there was nothing in it for him; or when we put on the helmet of a salvation that is now yours no matter who you are or what you’ve done? What will happen when you take up the sword of the Spirit and drive it into Satan when he comes running in your direction? Do you know? Immanuel does.
When I asked Immanuel the 2nd time if Ephesians 6 described him, do you know what he said? He said, “I want to it to.” And I said, “Do you know what kind of person would never say what you just did? An unbeliever. Someone who has turned their back on God would never want to do anything for him. But you do. We don’t find our peace by looking at how well we wear the armor, but by looking at the one who gave it to us in the first place and allows us to put it on and move forward again even after we’ve fallen.”
Then Immanuel started crying again, but this time because he knew what it was like to be set free from a heavy burden. And if God can lift a heavy burden off a pimp and give him strength and a new desire to live a life of sanctification, then by all means, you have God’s permission to move forward in life with confidence, knowing that you already are everything you need to be for that to happen.
Notice that God doesn’t tell you to “become” strong,” but to just “be” what, in Christ, you already are. And what you are is strong; so strong that, when you take up the sharp, double-edged sword of the Word of God, and thrust it into Satan any time he attacks with his lies, accusations, and temptations, then one thing will most certainly happen. In the words of James chapter 4: “He will flee.” And you will win. And when, together, each one of us within this body of Christ is putting on the full armor of God; when we hold each other accountable to it and seek first to clothe our families and children in it, then something else will happen too. This will be a family that Satan will never overcome, a safe place for anyone looking for forgiveness, love, acceptance, and strength that will never be taken from them. Even Satan knows that. Let’s live like we do too, in the full armor of God.