March 4, 2018
Should Christians be pacifists? Jesus does say to turn the other cheek if someone strikes you. And Christians should put away all violence and live at peace both with those within and outside of the Church. Yet, Christians are not pacifists, but warriors. But it's not what you might think. St. Paul says, "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." (Ephesians 6:12) It's called the Church Militant. No, Christians are not called by God to invade other countries with military might and force them to be Christians. Rather, God arms Christians to battle Satan. And we must continue to battle Satan until Christ returns.
Satan is the strong man of whom Christ our Lord speaks. He is fully armed and he guards his palace with diligence. Yet, Satan doesn't arm himself with concrete barricades and military-grade weaponry. Satan arms himself with lies. He distorts the truth, says things that are blatantly untrue, and anything in between. Because Satan isn't so concerned with harming your body as with destroying both your body and soul in hell by corrupting your faith.
Jesus is the stronger man. He disarms Satan and divides his spoil. Jesus says that he casts out demons with the finger of God. The finger of God is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through God's Word. To cast out Satan with the finger of God is to cast out Satan through the power of God's Word. Jesus cast out a demon from a mute man, so that the man could speak. Jesus cast out many demons throughout his earthly ministry by the power of his word. Yet, our Lord finally tore down the walls of Satan's palace and rescued all the souls held captive by him when he fulfilled the Word of God as it is recorded in Scripture by dying on the cross for the sins of the whole world. This is not how you win a battle against a nation's army. Yet, this was the only way to defeat Satan and scatter his kingdom.
Although Satan has been rightly defeated by Christ, he remains a dangerous foe. And he will remain dangerous until Christ comes again with glory to judge both the living and the dead. At that time Satan will be cast down forever, never to harm a Christian again. Jesus calls Satan the ruler of this world. St. Peter warns that he prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Scripture clearly teaches us that Satan has a kingdom and that kingdom is established right here on earth where we live. And so, we Christians must be on guard.
Yet, Christ does not leave us unarmed. He arms us with the very finger of God, that is, the Holy Spirit at work in the Word of God. This is why Jesus says, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" Last week we learned how to defeat God in a wrestling match using the Word of God. How much more powerful is this same word against the assaults of the devil? Satan arms himself with lies. God arms you with the truth. The truth defeats lies.
Jesus says, "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." In other words, there is only one truth: God's truth. And if you are not united with the truth then you are in league with Satan.
Satan is not nearly so exclusive. God says, "I, the LORD your God am a jealous God!" Satan would never say that. He doesn't need to be your only god. He's happy to be one of your gods. And this is a very sneaky trick of the devil. He's just fine with you identifying yourself as a Christian, wearing a cross around your neck, even going to church. Just so long as you are not entirely devoted to Christ and his word. "I don't need to believe everything in the Bible to be a Christian.", is what he wants you to say. He wants you to believe in some lies and think that you can have it both ways. But Jesus clearly teaches that you cannot serve two masters. God will not share you with another god.
"Let no one deceive you with empty words," Saint Paul warns. Do not become partners with the sons of disobedience. Scripture warns against sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness. Satan wants you to believe that you can indulge in your sinful flesh while remaining a Christian. Scripture warns that those who continue in sin without repentance will not inherit the kingdom of God.
This again, is why Jesus says, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" The word, "keep" there is the same word Jesus used to say the strong man guards his palace. Jesus wants you to guard his word as a strong man guards his possessions. The Word of God is the most important thing for you to keep safe in this life. It is this truth that will defend you against the devil's lies.
This means that Jesus wants you to keep on learning the Word of God. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;" God says through the prophet Hosea (4:6). When you stop learning God's Word you become vulnerable to the attacks of the devil. People talk a lot about fake news and urban legends, don't believe everything you read on the internet. Well, this goes double for what you hear about God on the internet, or at the sports bar, or the salon. Yet, how do you defend yourself from a slew of false information about God and his Word? By reading, hearing, and learning God's Word. The reason so many fall away and adopt anti-Christian beliefs is because they are not hearing and keeping God's Word.
Jesus says that when an unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places and after finding no place to rest it returns to its home. And if it finds the person from which it had been cast out empty, it returns with seven more spirits even more wicked than itself. And the last state of that person is worse than the first. When you were baptized, the devil was cast out of you. That is what God's Word does. God took possession of you. Yet, Baptism cannot save without faith. And faith cannot exist without the Word of God. When the evil spirit is cast out of you, you must be filled with God's Word, so that the spirit doesn't return and put you in a worse state than you were before.
This is why immediately after Jesus gives the command to baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit he says, "teaching them all that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age."(Matthew 28:19-20) This is why we don't just baptize people and send them on their way, but we baptize and continue to teach them the word of God.
"But I'm just not that interested in theology." Theology is the study of God's Word. To say that you are not interested in theology is like saying you are not interested in what God says. God is not done teaching you. He won't be done teaching you until you have reached your heavenly home. Theology, that is, what God teaches you from his Word is not an interest like sports, or geography, or math, which if you just aren't that interested in it, it really isn't that big a deal. No, theology is life. By your theology you will be justified and by your theology you will be condemned. So, it is of the utmost importance that you continue to learn what God teaches you.
The pious woman in the crowd cried out, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!" This is certainly true. The Virgin Mary is forever blessed, as she herself said, "All generations shall call me blessed." (Luke 1:48) Yet, Jesus says it is a greater blessing to hear and keep God's Word. The Virgin Mary is blessed, because God chose her to bear his Son in her womb. Mary is rightly called the Mother of God, because she is the mother of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, who is God. And Mary certainly did a marvelous work by raising Jesus, a much better work than any of us could ever do. Yet, Mary was not saved by her works. No one can be saved by his works, otherwise, God would not have sent Jesus to die in our place.
No matter how great your works are (and they are not as great as the Virgin Mary's), they cannot save you. But the Word of God does save. God's Word teaches you who Jesus is. He is true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. God's Word teaches you what Jesus did. He has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death.
Not only does God's Word teach you what is right and wrong, so that you know when the devil is lying to you. God's Word assures you of your salvation over and over again through the person and work of Jesus Christ. To battle Satan with the Word of God is to let God battle Satan for you! You defeated Satan in your Baptism, because God did so through his Word. Every time you hear that your sins are forgiven, Satan flees from you when your heart believes this truth. Satan must flee from this place as the word of truth is proclaimed from this pulpit and fed to you from the altar.
The only way you know Jesus and his work of salvation for you is through his Word. And the only way that you can defend this knowledge from the lies of the devil is by continuing to hear and learn God's Word. Recite the Apostles' Creed and pray the Lord's Prayer daily. Let God's Word be your defense. For by wielding God's Word, you wield the very finger of God. Let us pray.
Stay with us, Lord, and keep us true;
Preserve our faith our whole life through-
Your Word alone our hearts defense,
The Church's glorious confidence. Amen.