A young man became the president of a bank and he went to a longtime bank president for some advice. He said, “You have been a successful bank president for quite some time and I obviously don’t have the qualifications you do. Could you tell me the secret of your success? He said, “Young man, two words, good decisions.” The young president replied, “Thank you very much, but how does one come to know which is a good decision?” “One word, young man, experience.” “But how does one get experience?” “Two words, young man: bad decisions.”
It’s generally thought that in order to have wisdom, you must have a few gray hairs. Is it true that the older, experienced bank president will make less mistakes than the new, young bank president. But you see there are two totally different wisdoms being talked about in our text.
I once preached a sermon in Montana on a text in Proverbs which says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We had a visitor that day approach me after the worship serve who said, “I have to disagree with you. A person doesn’t have wisdom until he has a lot of these, and he pointed to his gray hair.” I tried to explain that the Bible makes us wise to salvation and that because of faith in Jesus Christians were the wisest people on earth. He didn’t buy it. You can’t explain to a fifty year old unbeliever that a little child might have more wisdom and expect him to like it.
Bad decisions are the key to experience. Experience is the key to success. Right? Are we on the same page? Good. Now forget it. Let’s forget about this worldly wisdom and talk about the wisdom that comes from above. Two types of wisdom are talked about in our text. James encourages us to Seek Heavenly Wisdom.
There is a wisdom that is not spiritual. A wisdom that is not god-pleasing. “Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” James calls this worldly wisdom, and it is from Satan. “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts…” Do you see that wisdom is more than just knowing what to do and what not to do. Harboring envy: “I wish I was really like so and so.” “I really wish I had so and so’s money, material possessions.” Selfish ambition: It’s all about you. What can your family do for you? How good can I look in the eyes of others? How good is this going to make me feel? This wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.”
So, the devil produces displeasure and anger against the success of others (envy) and the very opposite of true love (which is selfish ambition) and we wonder why marriages fail, or struggle. Or why wars are fought. Why there is terrorism. We wonder why we struggle in the workplace with co-workers. “Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
So, take away love and what do you have? “Disorder and every evil practice.” Exchange godly wisdom for worldly wisdom and what do you have? “Disorder and every evil practice.” Try to take God out of the picture and what happens to society?
So, when you children would rather have disorder than the order your parents set down, this is of the devil. When you husbands manage your family with mostly you in mind, this is of the devil. When you wish you could be like someone else, or have what someone else has, this is of the devil. And all this stuff leads to destruction with the evil one in hell.
James talks about two types of wisdom. Here’s the other: “But the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure: then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
Do you know what this wisdom is? Put all this together and what do you have? Or who do you have? Jesus!! Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Jesus is our wisdom from God.
Jesus is pure. There is no sin in purity. And purity’s effect on man is a holy effect. Jesus is pure; his cause is pure. And his cause was to work so the Father could declare us pure in his sight.
Jesus is peace-loving. Sin separated us from God. Jesus died and rose again to establish peace between God and man. The Bible calls him the “Prince of Peace.”
Jesus is considerate. Or in other words he was yielding to inferiors. He didn’t insist strictly on his rights as the Son of God. No, Paul says Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be held on to at all costs.” And so he assumed our human nature and he passively obeyed as the leaders abused him and carried out his death sentence.
Jesus was submissive. As the above word, considerate, is used in relation to those who are inferior, submissive is used in relation to those who are superior. Who is superior to Christ? No one! And yet, in humility he obeyed his heavenly Father who said, “This is my Son, whom I love. With him I am well-pleased.”
Full of mercy. Mercy is pity on someone in his helpless condition. We couldn’t live perfectly under God’s commands. So Jesus came. We couldn’t die to take away sin. Jesus mercifully came to pay for all the world’s sins.
Full of good works. Benefitial works. Its benefitial to allow someone to walk that cannot walk. Its benefitial to allow someone to see who cannot see. And Jesus did all kinds of miracles. Well, how about washing us clean of our sin in his blood!? There is nothing more benefitial than being forgiven and taken into God’s family and becoming an heir of eternal life.
Impartial and sincere. God doesn’t judge one way one day and then change his mind. God’s judgments are always the same. God doesn’t ever act like the hypocrite, saying one thing but then meaning another. His words are never hollow. He doesn’t make a promise and then say, “You know, I can’t actually fulfill that promise.” How are these for judgments? “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” “I am with you always to the very end of the age.” “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Jesus Christ is wisdom from heaven. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The Holy Scriptures “make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” I am looking at some of the wisest people in all the world, thanks to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
You ever heard the old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?” A child very often takes on the characteristics of his parents. You are adopted sons of God and your brother is Jesus Christ. “…the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure: then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” So, you are to pursue purity, peace, consideration, submission to others, mercy, good works and we are impartial and sincere. So, as the Father, so is the Son. So are the adopted sons of God.
All of life is sowing and harvesting. The farmer sows in the spring and harvests in the fall. The unbeliever sows his wicked oats and reaps a harvest of destruction on judgment day. But for the believer, Paul says, “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” He also says in Galatians 6:8, “…the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” And then he says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” What does this wisdom make your family life look like? What does this wisdom do for our congregation at Crown of Life?
Heavenly wisdom does not come with age necessarily. Heavenly wisdom is not mere head knowledge which comes from experience, which is a result of making lots of mistakes. Wisdom is the ability to take the knowledge of God’s will and make practical use of it in life. Wisdom is not mere head knowledge, but heart knowledge. A wise person understands Biblical truth and applies Biblical truth to his life. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
A few weeks ago, our Old Testament lesson from Proverbs 8 said, “Let all who are simple come in here!” Here is here: God’s Word. “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still.” With the Holy Spirit as your teacher, how wise we can become! Amen.
September 23, 2012
Have you ever been in the pit? Oh yes, I’ve had colds where I could hardly breath and I couldn’t sleep. That was the pit. No. That’s not the pit. Well, I once lost my job at a really bad time. That was the pit. I’ll tell you about the pit: I once did someone really sinful, really dumb, and I’ve been paying for it ever since. No, that’s not the pit.
The pit I’m going to talk about this morning is not something we struggle with physically, and not because of something we’ve done in sin. The pit is suffering because of our association in faith with Jesus Christ. If you’ve spent time in the pit, it is painful while you are in it, and yet, being in the pit is a blessing.
In our lessons today, we are reminded that we carry our own crosses in procession behind Jesus who carried his cross to redeem us from sin. Our crosses are painful. They are necessary. They are blessings. When I talk to you about Lessons from the Pit, it is another way of saying that we carry our crosses. Let’s Learn Lessons from the Pit.
First, it is good to ask, “How did I get into this pit?” It is because of our connection with Christ that we find ourselves in the pit.
Jeremiah did not choose his life and his call and this pit. God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:4) He would destroy-- pride would have to be demolished. Jeremiah was called by God to pronounce condemnation on those who were comfortable being condemned. He cared for these people. It would be tough. He would build—after he would tear down pride and unbelief, he would proclaim God’s grace and God would build his kingdom through Jeremiah’s work.
The Lord is the reason Jeremiah is in the pit. He told Jeremiah, “Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.” (1:17)
God’s people were made by God. This country was set apart by God. They were washed clean by the blood of the coming Lamb of God. They have God for other gods. God wants them back. Jeremiah was sent to proclaim God’s Word, and as he would, God would be with him. Just as he is with us. Jesus said as we carry out his great commission, “I am with you always.”
Jeremiah’s ministry was during the darkest years of Judah. God’s people “exchanged their glory for worthless idols,” (2:11) ‘they lived as a prostitute with many others’ (gods), (3:11) ‘the lifeblood of the innocent poor was on their clothes.’ (2:34) God said about his people, “…they are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.” (4:22) “The prophets prophecy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.” (5:31) Are times different today? The Bible doesn’t speak to us today?
God is going to send his people into captivity. And in our text Jeremiah includes this message: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. He will escape with his life…This city will certainly be handed over to the army of the King of Babylon, who will capture it.” In our text, some of the princes and nobles come to the king of Judah with a request. “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of the people but their ruin.”
The King, Zedekiah, who is weak, decides to do nothing to stop them. But since they don’t have the conscience to kill him, they throw him into a cistern instead.
Why is Jeremiah in the pit? Jeremiah was in the pit because of God and his Word. He’s there because Judah rebelled against God and God decided to let Judah suffer in exile at the hands of the Babylonians. He’s in the pit because God, in his mercy, gave Judah another opportunity to repent, not wanting anyone to perish. He’s in the pit because God gave Jeremiah the grace in this call to be the tool he used to call back to repentance. He wants the wayward to return and trust in him as Savior. We are the ones today who are called to proclaim God’s grace and mercy, after people hear of their sin.
In the pit, we are tempted to despair. He poured his heart out to God, “I would speak to you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (12:1) One day Jeremiah is beaten by enemies and placed into the stocks and he complains to God, “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed.” (20:7) He even curses the day he was born, “Cursed be the day I was born! (20:14) Jeremiah had terrible thoughts.
Before God’s people, Jeremiah was a fearless prophet. God allowed Jeremiah to be a wall for his people, as he promised. But inside, Jeremiah struggled with his faith. Alone with God he would break down completely. Sound familiar? It was such a struggle. Sound familiar? When so many people reject the Word of God, why should I continue to witness? God promises to be with us. God promises to bless us and make us strong. We want to stop.
In the pit, there is only one place to look, and that is up. A slave named, Ebedmelech believes Jeremiah is going to die in the pit. While he was in prison, he received his daily ration of bread. Now that he was in a pit, and with food being scarce because of a famine, Ebedmelech believed that Jeremiah was going to die without bread. So, Ebedmelech went to the King with a request: “My lord, the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into the cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.”
The king commanded that he take 30 men retrieve Jeremiah. Ebedmelech brought rags along to put underneath his arms so that when Jeremiah put the ropes under his arms to be lifted out of the cistern, the ropes wouldn’t tear into his flesh—so deeply was he stuck in the pit and mud.
In the pit, there is only one direction to look, up. Jeremiah often struggled in faith, but he did look up. God strengthened Jeremiah with his promises: (1:18,19) “Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. In 15:20-21 God told him, “I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,” declares the Lord. “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the cruel.” In 20:11,13 Jeremiah confessed in faith, “But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten.” And this gave him great comfort, so he praised God: “Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” In the pit, or anywhere else which troubles us, the only place to look for help is up to God and his promises.
As Jeremiah looked up for help and deliverance, it helped for him to know he was proclaiming not his own words or ideas, but God’s. God made this clear throughout his ministry. In 1:9, “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” In 19:2 “...There proclaim the words I tell you.” In 25:30 “Now prophesy all these words against them and say to them.” In 30:2; “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.” In 36:6 “… go to the house of the Lord on a day of fasting and read to the people from the scroll the words of the Lord that you wrote as I dictated. Read them to all the people of Judah who come in from their towns.”
Most importantly, There is nowhere else to look but up for salvation. “Return O faithless Israel…I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful.” (3:12) “The people who survive the sword will find favor in the desert; I will come to give rest to Israel.” (31:2) “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (31:3) “I am with you and I will save you…I will not completely destroy you.” (30:11) All these words were spoken to a rebellious nation. God was inviting the whole wayward nation to look up for salvation.
600 years before Jesus came, he was talking about Jesus. Since the kings of Judah had failed to lead God’s people, God promised he would come and lead his people himself. God would lead his people in righteousness-- every decision, every dealing with his people would be done well and right.
Not only would he be righteous, he makes us righteous before God. He would give God perfect obedience demanded from sinners and supply the righteousness that every person lacks.
He would be called, “The Lord our righteousness.” To do that he had to become like us. Talk about being in the pit. He looked down upon our pitiful condition, was born of a poor virgin girl, and left the glories of heaven to take upon himself everything that we’ve done wrong.
Talk about being in a pit—he faced constant pressure from his enemies who tried to trap him or prove inconsistency in his teaching, not to mention the temptations of Satan. Any claim to be connected to the Father was treated as blasphemy. And yet, he was righteous. And the Lord is our righteousness. Through his perfect life and innocent suffering and death and rising again from the dark pit of death, he has won for us righteousness. This is the door to God and the door to life in heaven—righteousness in our Lord Jesus Christ.
When people look at the trouble they go through, they’ll say, “Well God has a plan.” What a plan! God’s plan is salvation for all mankind. To tear down pride and rebellion. To make the comfortable in sin uncomfortable. But also to build up--to comfort the afflicted with God’s grace.
As you tear down and build up, you may find yourself being called “hateful”, or a “closed-minded.” And so, when you find yourself in the pit, being hated for your intimate union with the only God, you’ll want to ask yourself, “Why am I here?” If you lovingly and firmly proclaim the truth of God’s Word, and you find yourself in the pit, thank God! Thank God. The word works. Thank God, he seeks the salvation of all sinners. Once you get out, you’ll acknowledge that it was a blessing for you. While in the pit, all you can do, which is what God wants you to do anyway, is look up. Realize you proclaim His Word and then take his Word, all his threats and his promises, to heart.
Let me close with these thoughts. God’s grace leads us into the pit. God’s grace sustains us in the pit. God’s grace will bring us out. And while in the pit, keep looking up. Amen.
Sometimes when a news anchor interviews a celebrity, or political figure, they will dig into their personal lives. They want to get the story that their viewers are tuning in to hear. People like to get up close and personal—try to get to know the celebrities whom they either adore or disdain.
Could you imagine Jesus being interviewed today by George Stephanopolis or Matt Lauer? Jesus, now you’re the one who said, “Judge not lest you be judged”, but Jesus, come on, you seem to be pretty judgmental in your teachings. Can you explain this discrepancy? Jesus, you said, and I quote, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Do you think you’ll have a lot of followers being so closed minded? Can you explain why you, and not Allah, or some cow in India, are the only way to God. Jesus, as I read through your list of twelve disciples, I see that there are no women listed. You say that all people are equal, but doesn’t that look like you are a bit chauvinistic. Aren’t you worried that you are offending one half of the world’s population?
But we certainly don’t need the Today Show to help us get closer to Jesus. We don’t Good Morning America to help us see into the heart of our Savior. Jesus shows himself not through the lens of a camera or microphone, but through the Holy Scriptures and specifically, today through the pen of the Evangelist Mark. We get Up Close and Personal with Jesus Christ, personally tending to the needs of people and doing all things well—never failing us in any aspect of our needs.
1. A Savior who attends to us personally
Look at how Jesus operates among the people in the region of the Decapolis. They came to him with a man who was deaf and consequently could speak only with difficulty. They asked Jesus to merely place his hand on the man. They didn’t want to bother the teacher. They wanted Jesus to deal with the man’s problem and move on without taking much time at all.
But Jesus attends to personal needs personally. When Jesus fed the five thousand, and the four thousand, he could have just made it happen, when he healed the centurion’s servant or the calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus could have simply spoken the word and given this man his hearing and speech. But instead, in his divine wisdom, Jesus chose to demonstrate for all of us how he personally and carefully sees to the needs of each individual.
Jesus attended to this person in our text in a different way because he was concerned about the whole person who stood before him, not just his ears, not just his mouth, but his entire being, body and soul. Note that Jesus took the man aside. He didn’t want to be distracted by the crowds. He didn’t want to make this man a public spectacle. Jesus wanted his undivided attention.
He takes him aside to give him personal attention. Jesus puts his fingers into the man’s ears and heals the man’s hearing with his personal touch. After that, Jesus uses his own saliva and touches the man’s tongue. You don’t get too much more personal than that! Then he looked up to heaven and said, “Ephphatha” or “Be opened.”
Does God personally attend to your needs? When things go well—of course, God blesses us, he listens to our prayers—he couldn’t be more attentive. When things go the opposite of what we want—we think he looks the other way, doesn’t answer prayer, doesn’t care about what we go through.
Again, Jesus could have simply placed his hand on the man’s shoulder or head or even not touched him at all and still healed him perfectly, but he chose to do it this way instead.
If Jesus attends to our needs personally, then he doesn’t want us to treat him like a quick fix whenever we need him. But sometimes we treat prayer like the Yellow Pages: Let’s get him in hear quick and fix this thing. Jesus doesn’t treat us like we’re just faces in the crowd, but we wonder why he isn’t more attentive to our needs. Jesus rose again from death and we sometimes disregard his power and personal care.
After seeing him take personal care of this man in our Gospel, can we accuse Jesus of not caring just because we ourselves are struggling? After seeing him take the man aside and care for him can we accuse him of not knowing what’s happening in our lives?
We have only one real desperate need—the need to be right with God. Do you see how he devoted himself to fulfilling it? See how he died. As he was dying, he personally tended to the spiritual needs of the thief on the cross. He personally attended to the needs of his mother, while on the cross. He personally attended to the need for forgiveness for the ones who were torturing him, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
The hands that touched and healed this deaf and mute man, and touched and healed so many others were nailed to tree. In Jerusalem they didn’t have room for a healing, delivering, truth-teaching Rabbi who cured souls from sin. But after they killed him he came back to life and renewed his efforts of serving the needs of his followers. He appeared to the eleven. He came back for Thomas’ sake a week later: He showed him his hands and his side. And he has reached out to each and every one of your personally, sending His Holy Spirit to work saving faith in your heart. Yes, Jesus died for the sins of the world, but he died also for each of us individually, taking each sin upon himself and paying its debt to God as he suffered on the cross, bled and died.
Look at Jesus as he presents himself up close and personal. Your heavenly Father already knows your needs before you ask. He knows all the hairs on your head. He chose you before the beginning of time. We have to conclude with the people of the Decapolis, “He has done all things well.”
2. A Savior who never fails us
What was the result of Jesus’ personal touch on the deaf man? “At this the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.” The man began to speak plainly right away. He wouldn’t need months of speech therapy to train his tongue. Just like Jesus allowed others to walk right away, others to live in perfect health right away. Jesus is not bound to his laws of nature. What Jesus does is never a failure.
Can he still do things like this? Absolutely! What else can he do? He died on the cross for us. What else wouldn’t he do for each of us? “He has done all things well.” Every moment he uses his mighty strength and divine wisdom to do all things well for us.
It looks as though there are times when God fails us. Isaac dug a well and it was smashed by his enemies. He dug another well and it was smashed. Where was God? Allowing the wells to be destroyed, replacing the wells, and teaching Isaac that he had a better country, a heavenly one to look forward to. Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery. He was accused of rape and imprisoned. Joseph didn’t even need to wait until heaven to see God’s hand in this; God was preparing him for a great rescue of his family and the ancestors of our Savior. Where was God when Job lost his wealth, health and family? God was battling behind the scenes with Satan, God was setting limits for Satan and sustain Job during his time of testing. Job didn’t wait until he got to heaven to acknowledge the Lord’s goodness, might and wisdom. He did this after the time of testing. Joseph could say, “God does everything well. He’s a Savior who doesn’t fail.” Job could say, “God does everything well. He’s a Savior who doesn’t fail.” And if you are currently going through a time of testing, how wonderful when you’ll be able to look back and say, and you will, if not here, at least heaven: “God does everything well. He’s a Savior who doesn’t fail." No wonder then, why the Psalmist, as he considered all the works of the Lord on behalf of his people would write, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.” (136:1)
Where has Jesus ever failed? “He has done everything well.” We have a Savior who tends personally to our personal troubles. We have a Savior who always listens to our prayers. Did he ever fail in granting someone relief? Did he ever say, “Sorry, not even I can help you.” No disease was too far no one was ever dead for too long. As he carried earthly sorrows the Gospels show he never failed.
The one who did not fail left nothing to be failed. The one who did all things well has done everything for our salvation. From A-Z, our salvation for body and soul is complete. This is Jesus said, “It is finished.” So well did he do all things that even his Father commends him, “This is my Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” So well has Jesus done his work of salvation that the Bible says, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” So well does Jesus do everything that even though it looks like the poor little church militant is going to be wiped out someday, Jesus is “is seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age, but in the one to come. And God placed everything under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, who fills everything in every way.” (Eph. 1:20-23)
Our Savior who does all things well will never fail us. Listen so some of his promises: “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:13) “For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant he made with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them with an oath.” (Deut. 4:31) “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23) “My salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.” (Is. 51:6)
When we look at Jesus close up and personal, we don’t see any dirty laundry, like you will with a celebrity. And you won’t see any hidden agenda, like you might with a political figure. Up close and personal, you have a kind Savior who died for you and a Savior who works night and day in serving us personally. Look on him closer in his Word. Go to him in prayer. You have a Savior who is always there taking a personal interest in everything, never failing in anything. That’s our Jesus Christ: up close and personal. Amen.
Oh, and one more thing before I say goodbye, Paul writes, “Put on the full armor of God.” “Put on the armor! Put on the full armor.” Why? We’re going to battle. Literally, “Let the Lord make you strong and put on the full armor.” We are going to battle, today, tomorrow, all week long, and if we don’t have the Lord’s help, we will surely fall in battle. So, what does it mean to Put On the Full Armor.
Our foes? 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.
It may be difficult to fight an enemy you cannot see, but how blessed we are that we cannot see Satan and his soldiers. He’s not only invisible, he’s vastly superior to us. And he’s organized an army of demons who carry out his schemes: rulers, authorities, the world powers of darkness.
How do they fight us? He loves to get us to think that each other is the enemy. Or, if he cannot undermine our doctrinal position, he will try to get us to relax our moral standards. If Satan cannot overthrow our faith, he will try to wear it away, get us to compromise by injecting the leaven of false teaching. If he cannot seduce us into gross sins, he’ll get us to feel comfortable that commit little sins. And committing little sins, we are easily led into Pharisaism.
And we either underestimate our opposition, or overestimate our strength. We are too smart to get taken in. Or we won’t let it happen a second time.
Satan’s been at this for 6,000 years, and look at the immorality and sin and darkness in our world, and I think I can stand firm? I think of the times when my conscience told me to something right, right by God’s Word’s standards, and then Satan counters that with why I should do wrong and then I do wrong. If I rely on my own strength, I’m headed for a fall. He wants every soul in hell with him.
So, Paul says literally, “Let the Lord make you strong and put on the full armor of God.” He knows what a Roman soldier wore. When he lived in Tarsus, studying under the well-known Gamaliel, he saw Roman soldiers all the time. Roman soldiers rescued him from a mob in Ephesus and in Jerusalem. Roman soldiers escorted Paul from Jersualem to Caesarea and then to Rome. While in Rome, he was in the custody of the Praetorian Guard, an elite unit of Roman soldiers who had proven themselves in battle.
There were six essential part of the armor. First the belt. The belt surrounded the lower abdomen and having leather straps suspended to below the knee to protect not only the midsection, but also the upper legs. On the belt there were several loops for attaching scabbards for sword and dagger, rope, rations sack, water skin, tools and whatever else the soldier needed. The belt is mentioned first because it was put on first.
Next, the soldier put on his metal breastplate. It protected the soldier in both front and back and was attached to the belt with loops so that neither would come off. The breastplate protected the vital organs, especially the heart.
Next, the soldier wore sandals with leather straps that wound around the ankle and lower leg. Good footwear was especially important because the Roman Legions were famous for their capacity to march long distances and surprise an enemy who never expected them to be in a
certain place. Sandals were also important for keeping ones feet steady. A Roman soldier’s sandals had thick leather souls and were studded to assure traction in any terrain.
Next, the soldier had a shield, a long, rectangular door-like shield that reached from chin to knees. Sometimes shields had hooks on the sides so that in battle soldiers could hook them together to form a wall. During the part of the battle when the enemy was raining down a shower of fiery arrows they would hold their shields together over their heads to form what they compared to a turtle’s shell. In hand-to-hand combat the soldier would use the shield to protect against both spear and sword.
Next, the soldier’s head was protected by a leather-lined metal helmet that hung down over the neck and protected both head and neck. It was equipped with a chin strap to keep it from coming off in battle.
Finally, there was the offensive weapon, the sword. Romans used a Gladius, an 18 inch sword intended for stabbing rather than slashing. When the enemy would wind up to slash with his sword, the Roman would move in and pierce him under the arm. They practiced this move extensively in their training so that they could make accurate thrusts in battle.
In Paul’s day, this armor was state of the art, but was, and still is, of no use in the Christian’s war against the enemy. But Paul’s point is that our Heavenly Emperor has equipped his army with the armor of God. With that armor of God the Christian can be successful on the spiritual battlefield.
Our warfare is against a spiritual enemy we cannot see, and one we cannot beat alone. So, Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 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. As the Roman soldier’s armor protected from attack on all sides, so the armor of God can protect us even from this enemy and with the sword of the Spirit we can attack and drive away this enemy.
We too, have a belt around us, a belt of truth. We not only need the truth of God’s Word, that is, we not only need to know the truth as revealed in God’s Word, yes, we need to know every teaching of God’s Word the way God wants us to believe it. The Roman soldier began by surrounding himself with a belt and the Christian soldier surrounds himself with truth, God’s truth.
As the soldier’s breastplate protected the soldier’s heart and life, so we have a breastplate of righteousness that protects us from the father of disobedience. This righteousness is from God because we have no righteousness of our own. Surrounded with the righteousness of Christ and a blameless life that grows out of our faith, the devil cannot accuse us before God or draw us into the corruption of the world.
The Christian soldier must have a good footing. Our sandals are the gospel of peace, the good news that we stand upon. With this solid footing we are able to stand against all the attacks of the devil upon our conscience and our heart. It is what the army is all about. Apart from this Good News we stagger and fall dead before the enemy. But standing on this gospel we have God’s peace and can stand before him. Satan cannot claim or make us fall.
The Christian soldier has the shield of faith. Faith in God is protection against the blows and fiery arrows of the enemy. He can threaten and shout his battle cry, but we have shelter and safety because our God has given us a shield, namely, our faith in his promises and strength. As long as we are behind that shield Satan cannot harm us.
The Christian soldier has the helmet of salvation. Salvation is not a victory we win on the battle field. It was won for us by Christ in his battle throughout life and on the cross. There he defeated Satan in his life of obedience and his death of sacrifice. Both are counted by God as ours. Salvation is not our achievement but God’s gift as Paul wrote in chapter 2: “By grace you are saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works.” The assurance of victory is like a helmet of steel that protects us against all of Satan’s blows.
The Christian soldier has a weapon to attack the enemy, the sword of the Spirit. God’s word drives away Satan. Want to defeat Satan’s temptations, hang around God’s word. James tells us, “Resist him, and he will flee.” God is present where his word is used. It protects against the deception of Satan—while Satan winding up to slash you with his temptations, the Word of God attacks back and wins the skirmish.
Our armor is the same armor our Savior used. Talk about a belt of truth! Jesus said he is “the way, the truth and the life.” The Bible says about Jesus that “there was no deceit found in his mouth, he spoke the truth to those who loved it and those who rejected it, he prayed that his Father would sanctify us with the Word of Truth. No one could ever accuse him of sin. He knew the Word of truth, even as a young boy.
What did Jesus use to take his stand when the days of evil came for him? When tempted to sin in the wilderness with Satan, Jesus used the Word. He said, “It is written.” He defended himself and he fought back with the Word of God. When Satan prompted humans to attack Jesus he defended himself and fought back with the Word of God, restating Biblical truth, calling to repentance. When Peter told Jesus he should not go the way of the cross, he said, “Get behind me Satan. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man.”
Jesus came “to destroy the work of the devil.” So he fought temptation with the same defenses we’ve been given. He went to battle Satan with the same word of God we’ve been given. But he won. Though a human being like us, with weaknesses and being fully human, he used the defensive armor and the sword of the Word to defeat Satan in every attack of temptation.
He won all the little skirmishes with Satan, but to really defeat Satan, he paid for the guilt of everyone who has fallen into sin. Taking God the Father’s punishment, paying for the world’s sin, he has defeated Satan. Satan can tempt, but he cannot condemn. Satan can tempt, but he cannot accuse of sin—Jesus paid for it. Satan can lead into sin and win skirmish after skirmish, but he cannot win the war—the war has been won. Jesus marched into hell after he came back to life to proclaim his victory over the devil. This one soldier fought and won for a world led astray. The one soldier lived to die, to defeat evil, Satan, sin, death. And this one soldier reclaimed his life, and having won salvation for a world full of sinners, now assures of our victory in him and equips us for daily battle, by giving us our armor of defense and our weapon of attack.
Put on the full armor of God. A Roman soldier who put on only a few pieces would be in trouble. So he was given a full, complete set of armor. Achilles was the central character and hero of Homer’s Illiad. He was considered semi-immortal, but had one vulnerability, his heel. He died due when a poison arrow struck his heel.
What do we have? We have the belt of truth, that is God’s truth and a life that is true. We have a breastplate of righteousness, that is we are right with God through faith in Jesus. We have the gospel of peace, that is we stand on God’s grace as victory to overcome the enemy. We have the shield of faith which protects us from the attacks and schemes of Satan. We have the helmet of salvation which assures Christ has already won the victory and this helmet will be replaced one day with the crown of life. And we have the sword of the Spirit, with which we defeat Satan when he tempts or attacks our faith.
Put on the full armor of God and not even your heel will be vulnerable. Amen.
Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
Who is your God? Joshua’s God, our God, is the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Who is your God? is a question people need to wrestle with. Some follow Allah, the god of Islam. Others worship nature, or things in nature, like cows, or trees. Others follow god who is inside.
Allah, the moon god Muhammed wished to elevate, is not the Triune God. A cow, which is good or milk or food, is not God. A tree, which is used for paper or construction, is not God. The Triune God, who is so great, filling heaven and earth, including the wood, the air, our bodies and by faith our very hearts—he is God.
Which God Will You Follow? is question that each and every human being must answer. How one answers that question determines whether life with be one of divine benediction or selfishness. How one answers that question determines whether eternity will be one of eternal pleasures or eternal destruction. Which God Will You Follow?
Joshua is at the end of his life and leadership, at the ripe old age of 110. His words are somewhat of a last will and testament, and an encouragement for those he leads to follow the true God.
But he gave them a choice. They could follow the gods of their past. They could choose to follow the gods or the present, the gods around them in the land of Canaan. Or they could follow the God of the past, present and future. “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD”
Who are the gods their forefathers worshiped beyond the River? He doesn’t say, but he takes them back to Egypt, in which land was many gods. Remember the interaction our God had with the gods of the Egyptians? Think of the 10 plagues.
Aaron touched the Nile River with his staff and the water of the Nile and the rest of the country turned to blood. The fish died, their drinking water was gone and the River stank. Pharaoh was not real impressed but the water remained blood for seven days, the perfect length of time to show that our God ruled nature.
Remember the plague of frogs? Frogs were in their food, their clothes, their homes. The magicians were able to duplicate this, as they duplicated the water to blood, but only Moses could take away the frogs. Both the blood and the frogs were an attack on the Egyptian goddess Heket, goddess of water. It was also an attack on Geb, god of the earth.
Where was Hathor, goddess of love and protection during the plague of flies? Where was Isis, goddess of medicine and peace during the plague of the boils and sores? Where was Nut, the goddess of the sky during the plague that rained hail down in the form of fire? Where was Seth, the god of storms and disorder when God sent locusts from the sky to consume what the hail storm left? Where was Ra, the sun god, during the three days of complete darkness?
Pharaoh, was the ultimate power in Egypt. Pharaoh was the greatest of the gods in Egypt. He was considered to be the son of Ra himself. Pharaoh could not stop the death of all the firstborn in Egypt.
Israel could go back to the gods of the past, to Heket and Geb, to Isis and Nut, to Seth and Ra, even Pharoah, gods their forefathers worshiped across the River. But what can they do that our God can’t? What can they even do? What can they do to calm the anger of the Triune God against sin?
So, you can go back to the gods of the past, or you can worship the gods of the present, the gods of the Amorites, around you. Do you remember why God had the Israelites wipe out all the nations in Canaan? “It is on account of the wickedness of the nations of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you.” (Duet 9:5) The Lord’s patience had run out.
Our God is so great. God told Abraham, before his son Isaac was even born, that he and his descendants would “be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated for 400 years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You however, will go to your fathers in peace and will die at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen. 15:13-16) The sin of the Amorites will become so great in the land of Canaan, that God will use the Israelites to destroy them as the Lord’s judgment.
But what made them so evil? Their gods. Like the Egypians, they too worshiped many gods. Canaan’s chief god was El: or “god.” He was a dark, shadowy figure, who killed members of his own family to become leader of the gods. El was a lustful pig who is depicted as a bull in a field of cows. So guess what El was about? Guess what their worship consisted of?
Then there was Baal. Baal was the storm god and the god of rain and fertility. Asherah is also a well-known god of the Canaanites. The worship of these gods consisted of prostitution, the sacrifice of children, the worship of snakes and divination. Lustful abandon without any moral decency was the result of the worship of the Canaanite gods.
So, what was the result of the Canaanites worshiping these gods and the resulting immorality? God warned Israel before going into the promised land, “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land is defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” (Lev. 18:24-24)
So, you can go back to the gods of the Egyptians, which didn’t help the Egyptians. Or you can follow the gods of the people living around you, gods like El, Baal and Asherah, who the Lord abhors, but it you do, “And it you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” (Lev. 18:28)
How about following the God of the past, the present and the future? The God who chose Abraham to be the father of many nations, and from whom to bring the promised Savior. The God who told Abraham that his descendant would go to a foreign country, be slaves and come back in four generations, 400 years later!, and who made good on that promise. The God who made exposed Heket and Geb, to Isis and Nut, to Seth and Ra for what they are: idols. Idols=nothings.
How about serving the God who stands in judgment over the false of gods of El, Baal and Asherah who lead their followers into rebellion? The God who drove out in judgment the nations that lived in the land of Canaan before Israel? The God who hates wickedness, rebellion and sin?
How about serving the God whose history goes back to before time, the eternal God who, in love created this world, announced the Savior to the first sinners, who kept the promise for 4,000 years. How about following the God who kept a faithful remnant of believers from the fall until now, through two captivities for Israel?
The question needs to be answered every day? Which God Will You Follow? Ra and Baal may be far from your minds, but what challenges to take our loyalty away from this God? Our intellect—we’re pretty smart. If not college degrees then at least degrees from the school of hard knocks. We know a lot. Or maybe you don’t feel you have to know a lot, as long as your retirement plan is fine. Well, if that might not be the case, at least you have your health. Is there something that threatens for supremacy over God in your heart? Good grades? Popularity? As the false gods found out in Egypt, and in Canaan, as every unbeliever finds out, and it is good for us to remember too: The Lord will put up with a lot of things in the human heart, but being second place is not one of them. The demands and deserves to be first. And to use a phrase in Leviticus, we all deserve to be vomited out of the land.
The God of the past, present and future is so because of His love. In the past, he kept his promise to send his Son. In the past, the Son came, and though that was in the future for the Israelites in our text, they trusted in the same God of the past, present and future. Already in the past, this God has sent Jesus to win the hearts of sinners back to this God. By living the way this God demands, by offering his life as payment for any failure to live according to God’s demands, Jesus brought God and mankind back together in a relationship of love. The God of the past, present and future is so because whatever goes on, whatever battle is being waged around you or in you, this God of the past, present and future is going to see you through to the other side, whether that’s to the other side of the battle, or to the other side of existence. See, this God of the past, present and future wants you with him for all eternity in paradise, where nothing of the past can bother, where everything God has done in the past is worthy to give God praise and glory.
Which God Will You Follow? Of course you know the answer to that question. The God of the past, present and future! Joshua reminded the Israelites just before our text: “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed” (Joshua 23:14). Nor has any of God’s promises failed us.
So, for us, it not just who we will follow, but how. Joshua said, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.” Literally, God wants us to serve him “in all sincerity and truth.” In sincerity: serve the Lord with your heart in it. With love and gratefulness to God in your heart give glory to the God the past, present and future. And serve the Lord in truth. Serve him not based on feelings or inclinations, but based on the truth of God’s Word.
So, you may have all the answers for a sinful world, serve him sincerity. You may have all the sincerity in the world—sincerely proclaim, then, the truth of God’s Word and his saving Name.
I wish to close with Joshua’s well-known words in answer to the question, Which God Will You Follow? These are not only Joshua’s words, but Israel’s words. These are my words and yours: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Amen.