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Private Confession: By Appointment

The Christian's Internal and External Enemy

August 28, 2021 Pastor: Rev. George Fyler

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Mark 7, 14-23 & Ephesians 6, 10-20

The Christian’s Internal and External Enemy

14th Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 17-B

08-29-2021 @ Christ Lutheran Church, Cleveland, Ohio

INI

20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”(Mark 7) (and) 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  (Ephesians 6)

In the name of the Father and of the (X) Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Dear Beloved of the Lord:

According to these two texts we learn that believers struggle in life surrounded by sin, death, Devil, and hell.  Our enemy is both internal and external, inside of us and outside of us.  It is the old Adam who wreaks havoc inside of each of us AND the old evil foe who prowls around us seeking whom he may destroy.

The broad truths that the Scriptures teach often come out of narrow contexts.   For instance, in last week’s Gospel, Jesus engaged in a back and forth with religious leaders about the authority of human traditions, the “Pharisaical ceremonial” practice of washing hands, and what makes a person ritually unclean.  At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus expanded the audience by inviting the crowd into the conversation (perhaps they were the same people he had miraculously fed in Mark chapter 6).  Jesus says,  “Hear me, all of you, and understand” (7:14).  Then, with everyone’s attention, Jesus taught about what makes a person truly unclean.  In a departure from or, at least, an expansion of the Old Testament Law (see Leviticus 11  and Deuteronomy 14), Jesus declared food does not make a person unclean.  What goes into the body is not the problem.  It is what comes out.  Out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, words, and actions.  Such evil comes out because it already lurks within.

Today’s Gospel and Epistle texts invite us to focus on the identity of our true enemy/enemies.  The timing is good, because in our increasingly polarized culture it is far too common to find mortal enemies around every corner.  Who is my enemy?  Is it the network pushing fake news?  Is it the political party trying to destroy the country?  Is it people spreading lies about the vaccine?  Is it the local school board, the ambitious colleague, the omnipresent screen?  There are many enemies.  Notice we often describe them as someone (or something) else—outside of us, lurking in the dark shadows of the night or blinding us with a distracting laser focused light we cannot ignore.

Unlike the Gospel which emphasized evil comes from within, the reading from Ephesians 6 emphasizes the external nature of our enemy.  “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  St. Paul says our enemy is NOT within, but without, far above and beyond flesh and blood.

So, which is it?  Is the enemy within?  Or is it without?  The answer, of course, is: “Yes.”  Our enemy is both external AND internal.  It is the old evil foe who prowls around us AND the old Adam who wreaks havoc inside each of us.  The reality is we have two enemies (or three if you want to follow Luther and add the World to the Devil and our Sinful Flesh) and they are relentless.  What does this mean for the Christian life?

First, it means we are in trouble.  History clearly teaches it is really hard to fight a battle on two, much less three, fronts.  St. Paul’s message is rather simple: We need to be on guard.  This needs to be said clearly and forcefully, for most of us are in the habit of ignoring at least one (and usually two or three) of our enemies.  As a result, the evil lurking in our hearts comes out far too often as Jesus says in today’s Gospel text.

Second, and this is where the good news really is good, there is one who reigns over all our enemies.  He is the victorious one, the conqueror of death, the master over sin, the risen and reigning Lord Jesus Christ who has tamed the evil foe and the old Adam and keeps them both on a short, if hidden, leash.  When He returns, He will end their tyranny for all time.  Speak this promise to strengthen and encourage your loved ones as they struggle.

Third, this promise of deliverance not only fills us with hope for future relief, but also transforms our lives here and now.  We no longer have any excuse to give into temptation, whether it comes from without or within.  Instead, we are to live by the Spirit in the victory of Christ by refusing to conform to the will of our enemies.

No soldier enters the battlefield without protection.  So, Paul teaches us what it means to be clothed in the full armor of God, whose might is our strength.  The Ephesians text calls to mind Paul Gerhardt’s marvelous Easter hymn, “Awake, My Heart, with Gladness,” especially the fourth verse:

Now hell, it’s prince, the devil, Of all their pow’r are shorn;
Now I am safe from evil, And sin I laugh to scorn.
Grim death with all its might Cannot my soul affright;
It is a pow’rless form, Howe’er it rave and storm.
(Lutheran Service Book, #467, vs. 4)

The Easter message could not be clearer: Christ Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the Devil!  These three defeated foes have no power over the risen Christ, and thus, no power over those who belong to Jesus.  We are, after all, the “spoils of war” whom Christ has rescued from Satan’s slavery. 

The Pentecost season does not change the Easter proclamation but spreads that Gospel abroad!  Sin, death, and Satan are all defeated foes!  Christ is risen!  Christ is Lord!  But this does not stop Satan from attacking.  It does not stop him from employing the world and our flesh to convince us otherwise.  Though Christ has won the victory, like a bear caught in a trap, the devil ravages, and rages at anything that comes near him.  Or, as St. Peter puts it, “Your adversary the Devil prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

This means the Christian’s life is constantly under assault.  Far from our baptism into Christ leading to the easy road of “victorious Christian living,” we experience life much more like Jesus, who immediately after being raised up from the baptismal waters was taken by the Holy Spirit to battle Satan in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).  Holy Baptism grants you forgiveness, life, salvation, and a very wicked foe.  To be baptized is to be loved by Christ and hated by Satan.  To be hated by Satan is to be under attack.  To be sure, it is the attack of a defeated foe, but it is an attack, nonetheless.

Like a good field general, to conclude his epistle, Paul equips us for battle.  He gives us the gifts and the armor we need to “stand against the schemes of the Devil” (Ephesians 6:11).  Far from being an earthly war “against flesh and blood” (6:12), it is the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12) which assault the baptized.  No soldier enters the battlefield without protection.  So, Paul teaches us what it means to be clothed in the full armor of God (6:13-20), whose might is our strength (6:10).

To see how Christ is at work in this text it is important for us to recognize Paul is calling the baptized to be on the defensive against Satan’s attacks, not the offensive.  The Holy Spirit puts no spears, darts, or offensive weapons in our hands with which to storm Satan’s kingdom.  Rather, it is that we belong to the Victor who has clothed us in His armor to protect us while the enemy rages on.  Thus, to be “strong in the Lord” is to be “in the strength of HIS might” (6:10).

It is not our task to conquer Satan.  Christ has accomplished this already for us on the cross.  The victory is His, thus it is ours.  Paul’s battle imagery echoes Isaiah’s prophecy of YHWH fighting and winning the battle for His people: “He saw that there was no man and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought Him salvation, and His righteousness upheld Him.  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” (Isaiah 59:16-17).

It is Christ, the incarnate God who wins the battle for us.  Thus victorious, He puts His armor on us to protect us from the attacks of Satan.  To put on this armor is to be clothed in the battle gear of the victorious, incarnate God.  It is a striking Gospel irony, these enemies who are not made of blood and flesh are defeated by the flesh and blood of the divine Man Jesus Christ, crucified, and risen to unite all people to Himself.

Christ’s victory does not render our battle obsolete.  Satan really is attacking, and you deal with it every day.  It can actually be a great comfort to know it is normal for the Christian to face attacks.  It is not a sign of weak faith, but quite the opposite!

Remember, though Satan seem so powerful he is not an equal power to God.  He is a defeated loser, not a divine being.  The key is to recognize, though Satan may be stronger than us, He is not stronger than Christ.  You belong to Christ, who will not let you go.  What is more, the Devil’s work is all counterproductive.  The more he rages at the Christian, the more the Christian flees to Christ in prayer.

So, stand firm against the attacks of the evil one, knowing his days are numbered.  Christ has crushed the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:16).  The victory is ours in Jesus!  As you just sang, “I am saved by Grace alone.”

In the name of the Father and of the (X) Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen

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