Sermon audio here.
Christ is the Prince of Peace. Even so, He has an army, and He has enlisted you as His soldier. As a Christian, you are involved in the most deadly, highest-stakes war every single day of your life. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against sin, death, and the devil.
As is often the case in warfare, the armies aren’t on equal ground. One nation tends to have more money, more soldiers, and better weapons. When you go up against Satan, you have a major disadvantage: you can’t see him, and he usually doesn’t throw sharp objects at your head. But when that happens, make no mistake: that, too, is the work of Satan, regardless of who threw it.
When you don’t hear the sound of guns firing and bombs exploding, it’s easy to forget there’s a war going on. And that’s exactly what Satan wants. This is why the hymn says, “This foe with hidden snares may seize me unawares if I should fail to watch and pray.” But it’s true: you walk in danger all the way. Don’t forget that, whatever you do.
When you’re fighting a war, it goes without saying that your eyes need to be in good working order. How can you fight an enemy you don’t see coming? This is why nations spend all kinds of money on stealth bombers, submarines, and in training spies: it’s nearly impossible to defend against an enemy you don’t see coming.
As a soldier in Christ’s army, your chief opponent is Satan, and you can’t see him. This puts you at a major disadvantage. To fight against Satan is like trying to fight a war blindfolded.
One of the prayers in the liturgy highlights this idea of fighting with blindfolds on; we pray for those who are “blinded and bound in the devil’s kingdom,” that they would repent and believe the Gospel. Now it’s true this is a prayer for unbelievers, but the fact is your old rebellious nature remains even after you’ve been baptized into Christ.
Because of this, you don’t stand a fighting chance against the devil. Peter thought he was pretty tough, but Jesus told him that if it weren’t for Him, Satan would sift him like wheat. The old evil foe now means deadly woe, and on earth is not his equal.
And if anything, Satan will use your eyes against you. He makes every effort to dress sin up in the appearance of beauty, or even holiness. The fruit in Eden was a delight to the eyes. He told Adam and Eve that if they ate it, they would become like God. He made it sound like by sinning, they would become holier.
Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. He doesn’t look like a bad guy, and he even tempts you with God’s good gifts. Sin is typically a perversion of something good. What Satan does is he takes something good, like pleasure, and tempts you to misuse it.
Eating is good, so long as you don’t eat too much. Sex is good, so long as you enjoy it in the context of marriage with a member of the opposite sex. Even unrighteous mammon can be used to glorify God, like when you use it to take care of your family or support the work of the church. Sin usually involves taking something that is good and using it in the wrong way. As Christians, it’s our job to use God’s gifts according to His will, not our own.
Satan will always tempt you to do what feels good. But in this battle, the worst thing you could do is rely on your feelings. They will lead you astray every time. Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Our Lord says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander.”
In this war, you can’t rely on what you see because you fight an invisible enemy. Nor can you rely on your feelings, because they will lead you away from God’s Word every single time.
The human heart is fickle, but God’s Word is not. The only way to make it out of this war alive is to rely on your ears, because that’s how Christ comes to you. Christ doesn’t work through your feelings; He works through His Word and Sacraments.
No one is an expert in spiritual warfare; we are all learners. By relying on your ears, by having ears to hear His Word, you rely on Christ. The only way to withstand Satan is by God’s Word and Spirit. We listen to and learn from Christ, who is the only expert, upon Whom we must rely every step of the way.
Christ comes to you primarily through your ears—faith comes by hearing—but He enlists your other senses, as well. You have felt the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism washing over you and you taste His grace in the Sacrament. Churches have often used incense to engage the sense of smell and remind us that our prayers ascend before the Lord as a pleasing aroma.
So we have hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. But what we’re tempted to rely on the most, emotions and sight, actually turn out to be the enemy of faith. Faith is the conviction of things not seen. Faith is believing in God despite the fact that your flesh loathes and resents Him with every fiber of its being.
We cannot overcome Satan, but Christ can, and has. He fights for you, and in Him, victory is yours. He did this in the same way armies usually suffer defeat: He allowed Himself to become the devil’s prisoner. He didn’t wage war against Satan with power and might—that was the devil’s tactic—but defeats him by willingly doing what we try to avoid at all costs—He dies.
Beloved, we overcome Satan in the same way. Not by strength, power, and might; not by exerting our dominion over one another, but by humble obedience, patient suffering, and self-sacrificial love.
Soli Deo Gloria