This is post 7 of 7 in the series “AGAINST THE ODDS”
Against the Odds: The Whole Armor Of God
She was an older Christian lady and she lived in a third-floor apartment. One day, she was sitting on the balcony of her apartment and she chanced to look down and there sitting on the curb below was a rather poorly dressed man who seemed quite dejected. She wanted to do something to encourage him, but she also had concern for her safety. Then she had an idea. She took a ten dollar bill, clipped it to a note on which she wrote two words: “Don’t despair.” Then she dropped the money and the note down to him. He looked up, smiled, said, “Thank you,” and was gone. The next day, she was in her apartment, heard someone calling from outside. She went out to the balcony, looked down and there was the same man. His face was all smiles. “Hey, lady,” he called out, “You won some money. Don’t Despair came in first and paid off eight to one!”She was an older Christian lady and she lived in a third-floor apartment. One day, she was sitting on the balcony of her apartment and she chanced to look down and there sitting on the curb below was a rather poorly dressed man who seemed quite dejected. She wanted to do something to encourage him, but she also had concern for her safety. Then she had an idea. She took a ten dollar bill, clipped it to a note on which she wrote two words: “Don’t despair.” Then she dropped the money and the note down to him. He looked up, smiled, said, “Thank you,” and was gone. The next day, she was in her apartment, heard someone calling from outside. She went out to the balcony, looked down and there was the same man. His face was all smiles. “Hey, lady,” he called out, “You won some money. Don’t Despair came in first and paid off eight to one!”
Well, it would be nice if all the despairing circumstances in life could be so easily and so profitably handled! But if you are a Christian, you know that is not so. And if you are a Christian, you know that we are living in the midst of tough and troubled times. If you are serious about the faith, you are saddened when you see so much of our society working toward that which is evil, rather than that which is good. But in the midst of such a time, we as Christians must never surrender to despair. We must never quit. We must never give up.
That’s the reason I have spent these last six weeks working very carefully through the various pieces of spiritual armor we as Christians are to wear. Today, I want to conclude this series with a reminder that Paul calls us to put on the whole armor of God—not part of it but all of it. Listen to his words—”Take up the whole armor of God so that you will be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Let’s work our way very carefully through that great verse . . .
Paul calls us to put on the whole armor…
The battle we are in is a life and death conflict. For us to survive and have any chance of victory, we must put on each piece of protective armor—the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. Then we must take as our offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. We need the whole armor because the Christian life is not a stroll; it’s a march.
I wonder if you know the origin of the word “saunter.” We talk about a person “sauntering through the park.” The word comes from the French word “sancterre.” When the Crusaders were going to the Holy Land—”Sancterre”—they would travel through France, and Christians who lived along the way, would often give them accommodations and food at night as they continued their journey. Well, it didn’t take long for some deadbeats to learn that they could pretend to be going “a la sancterre,” to the Holy Land. They had no intention of going there, but it was a great way to get a free night’s room and board. These people became known as “sancterieres”—those who pretended to be going somewhere but actually weren’t. The Christian life is not a saunter. It’s not a pretense. It’s not just a joy ride, though there is incredible joy in it. It’s not a stroll; it’s a march. It’s not easy; it’s hard. It’s not a game; it’s a matter of life and death. That’s why we must remember that God is on our side. He is with us and nothing, not even death, can separate us from Him.
Roy McClain, for a number of years, the pastor at The First Baptist Church in Atlanta, served as a Chaplain during the Second World War. He told of a Sunday morning on one of the islands, south of Japan, it came time for worship, but it was pouring down rain. About 100 men gathered in the mud and the mire. Roy McClain shouted over the noise of the wind and the rain: “Do you want to have worship today?” To the man they cried “Yes!” They had no hymn books, so they just hummed some familiar tunes; they had no Bibles, so they just recited the Twenty-third Psalm. The rain was falling in sheets, so McClain asked if they wanted a sermon. Standing in the rain, ankle-deep in the mud, the men answered, “Yes! Preach!” So McClain preached. Later on Roy McClain says: “I have now come back to a civilian pulpit where people sit on cushioned pews in air-conditioned comfort, and where if they have to park a block or two away, they regard coming to church as a major inconvenience. Now why did that worship service over there in the rain and the mud means so much to those foot soldiers? The answer is simple. They were facing the possibility of death at any moment and they needed to experience the protective power of God.”
My beloved, these are hard times. There are life and death issues out there ahead of us. We need to claim the protective power of God. That’s the message behind Paul’s words, “Put on the whole armor of God.”
Then Paul calls us to “Put on the whole armor of God…”
That means that when we go into battle with the tough times, we are accompanied by God. This is the testimony of the Bible from beginning to end. The Psalmist writes, “The angel of the Lord encamps about you.” Jehoshaphat is told: “The battle is not yours; it is the Lord’s.” Jesus says: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you.” Hebrews says, “God leads His children to victory.” Yes, the whole testimony of scripture is captured in I John 4: verse 4 where we read: “Little children, you are of God, you shall overcome. For He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Mark it down! When times are the toughest, God is the closest!
Just to give you an idea of how hopeless and hapless I would be as a preacher without God’s presence with me, when I came to this point in my writing of this sermon, I was on a flight to Salt Lake City. I was wondering how I could bring the point home, and I did what I always do when I get stymied—I whispered a prayer: “Lord, I need You.” Moments later, there was a tap on my shoulder. The man standing in the aisle of the plane said: “My name is Dennis McClellan. We haven’t had the chance to meet, but I’m a new member of your church. My wife and I love to hear you preach, but I don’t know if you get much feedback or not, so I wanted to visit with you a second.” He sat down in the vacant seat across the aisle. He said, “You have been preaching about how God is with us when we hit the hard times in life. Your sermon the other day took me back to October 1965.” He proceeded to tell me a riveting story. He was an Air Force radar officer and had been shipped to Vietnam. Five days after landing in the War Zone, he was assigned to a remote radar outpost. Accompanied by a squadron of soldiers, he headed out into the countryside. On the way they were ambushed. Most of the squadron were killed. Fourteen were captured and taken prisoner. In the firefight, he had been holding his thick books of radar logs in front of him. A shot pierced through those books. The thickness of the books saved his life, but the bullet did lodge just beneath the skin of his chest. He and the other prisoners were then moved from one location to another to avoid detection. They were confined in underground pits. He was given no medical attention for his injuries. One day, a group of Marines happened upon the encampment. Not knowing there were prisoners there, the Marines called in a Napalm strike—mercifully it missed the target, but it did hit close enough to send the Viet Cong scattering. They left two guards for the prisoners. Dennis and the other soldiers decided to use the confusion to make a break for freedom. Seven of the fourteen were gunned down. Dennis and six others escaped. He spent the next eight months in the hospital trying to recover . Then he said to me: “The reason your sermon hit me so hard was just that I had always considered myself to be a Christian—not a capital “C” Christian but a small “c” Christian, because I didn’t think I measured up in my life. But as a P.O.W., knowing I might die any moment, facing the toughest time I had ever known, suddenly I was aware of God’s presence in a powerful way. There in that awful pit, the things I learned as a child, the Bible verses I had been made to memorize in Sunday School, the stories my Sunday School teachers had told me, all of that, came bubbling up from within to strengthen me. Now, all these years later, because of your sermon, I realized that I had been able to stand against the horrors and the terrors of being a P.O.W. because I am a Christian and God is with me. What you preach is really true!” Dennis McClellan is right. It is true. When times are the toughest, God is the closest.
Then Paul calls us to “Put on the whole armor of God…and to stand.”
I fight a very hard battle in my life, because like Paul, I am a great sinner. It seems to me that I am endlessly at war with the sins which beset me. There are times when I make progress in one area only to be attacked by the flaming arrows from some other area. I try to wear the armor; I pray consistently through the course of each day, and yet there are times when the battle is hard and seems to be getting harder. I am sure many of you have the same experience. But I know that the evil in myself and the evil in this city, and the evil in this time, break me down until I feel like I am in one long valley of the shadow of death. I put on the armor, I trust God, but sometimes it still doesn’t seem to be enough. I find myself in such times led just to try to stand—to hang on by my fingernails to whatever shred of courage is mine—to just keep on keeping on regardless. I am glad to know that the apostle Paul understands that. That’s the reason he says in this passage to “put on the whole armor of God” and then, when you’ve done everything else, and there is nothing left to do, then just stand, stand firm. Just stand for Jesus Christ in your life.
Of course, Paul draws that image from his observation of the soldiers of the Roman Legion. It’s interesting to note that when archaeologists excavated the ruins at Pompeii—you will remember that Pompeii had been buried by the lava from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius—they found many in the town had tried to escape the volcano by hiding in the basements of their homes. They died there. Others went back into the town for treasures they wanted to take with them, and their bodies were found with their treasures still in their hands. Perhaps, most intriguing of all, they found a Roman sentry box, and standing in that sentry box—standing mind you—a skeleton of a Roman soldier still wearing all of his armor. Imagine, he stood there at the gate while all these people who were trying to flee the black smoke, the fiery lava, the foul air, and the choking ash—this legionnaire stood firm, never abandoning his post. Paul says: “When you can’t do anything else, stand.” That’s what Martin Luther meant when he said at the Diet of Worms: “Here I stand, I can do no other; God help me.”
I have found great inspiration in reading the personal testimony of Lech Walesa, the great leader of the struggle for freedom in Poland. He is a Christian, deep and devoted in his faith. In his testimony, he writes these words: “There are times in my life when I feel the grace of God, but there are other times when I feel that God is distant, and then I must stand only on the strength of my faith and my convictions. I don’t know why I feel empowered one time and not empowered another , but I do know this—if I stand firm, my faith grows. Some people say I’m obstinate but I’m not obstinate. I simply stand for the truth and I will not bow my head for a lie. I am in the Lord’s service for as long as He wants me. I will stand with others, or I will stand alone, but I will always stand for my Lord.”
My beloved, it is to that faith that we are called. To stand for Jesus Christ in life no matter the cost. We can stand because we know that we are the children of God and the soldiers of Jesus Christ. We know that the whole armor of God is ready for us. We know that “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.” We can stand even when nothing seems to be going as we want, because we know that in end, we shall be more than conquerors. How did Jesus put it?
“Those who endure to the end will be saved.”
That’s the promise of our Lord.
And He never breaks His promises…