In the epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul exhorts the Christian
converts in Ephesus to arm themselves against the wiles of the devil,
against all the fiery darts of the evil one. Their profession as
Christians will not be an easy matter: the evil day - the day of testing and
temptation will come, and they will surely fail if they rely upon their own
fragile resources. They are vulnerable to the enemy and they can stand
against him only if they are clad in the whole armour of God. They
must be watchful, and alert, and prayerful.
But who is this enemy?
Not flesh and blood, says our text: "we wrestle not against flesh and
blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the
darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
Not flesh and blood, he says: Not ordinary, obvious human difficulties, not
just those weaknesses and frailties to which our flesh is heir; but
something more subtle, more deceptive and more dangerous: "Principalities
and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness
in high places."
What are these principalities and powers, these fiery
darts of the devil, this spiritual wickedness which rules the darkness of
this present age? these are not flesh and blood enemies, these are
spiritual enemies which would destroy our faith by subtle and clever
distortions of the truth, which would destroy our hope by chill draughts of
cynicism, and destroy our love with perversions of desire. Against
such enemies, our text warns us, ordinary defences will not suffice.
We must take to ourselves the armour which only God provides, the armour of
That warning is not just to ancient Ephesus; it is also a
warning to us, and a very timely one. The temptations which confront
us as modern Christians are, above all, spiritual temptations: the
temptation to conform to distortions and dilutions of the truth of the
Gospel; the temptation to conform and adapt ourselves to this world's
standards of right and wrong; in short, the temptation to conform ourselves
to the spiritual darkness which rules the present age. Against such
temptations we are poorly armed, unless we take upon ourselves the armour of
God's Word, prayerfully and watchfully holding fast to that Word, and
helping one another to stand fast: "watching thereunto with all
perseverance, and supplication for all saints."
Christian faith and
life are never easy - not easy in ancient Ephesus, and not easy now.
But I think that we are now facing a time of particularly acute spiritual
temptation, as individuals and as a Church. The temptation is to
conform spiritually to the world around us, often in the name of relevance
or keeping up to date. To succumb to that temptation is to distort the
Gospel, and finally to lose faith altogether. We can only stand
against such fair-seeming tempters by watchfulness and prayerfulness, by
being ever more attentive to God's Word, and ever more obedient to his
righteousness. We must be alert and thoughtful about our religion and
our Church, "redeeming the time," as last Sunday's Epistle said,
"because the days are evil."
"Above all, taking the shield of
faith," says today's Epistle, and today's Gospel lesson tells us
something about the power of that shield. It's an account of one of
Jesus' miracles: the restoration to health of the nobleman's dying son.
Many tons of paper and countless gallons of ink have been expended upon
explanations, or sometimes rationalizations of Jesus' miracles, in an effort
to make them seem more credible. But all that concern about the
mechanics of the miracles is really beside the point, and largely
irrelevant. Jesus' miracles are not magicians tricks, designed to
puzzle and deceive; rather, they are symbolic acts. They are signs of
the power and wisdom of God in Christ. Jesus cures the blind and the
deaf, and thus fulfils messianic prophecy; but thereby he signifies the
power of God to open dull minds to the truth which is in Christ. He feeds
the hungry, and signifies that he is the true bread, the Word of God, to
nourish hungry souls. He stills the stormy seas, and shows God's power
to calm the tumults of our confusions and despairs. In today's Gospel
story, he restores the nobleman's dying son, and signifies God's power to
raise us from our dying state, to new and endless life in the Spirit.
Jesus heals the nobleman's son, in answer to the nobleman's faith; and that
is a sign for us: a sign that God, in Christ has power to heal the
afflictions of our spirits, to bring us through temptation, if we will only
trust his Word. "Jesus saith [to the Nobleman], Go thy way,
thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken
unto him, and he went his way." God is faithful: let us us believe
his word and trust him. Here, today, let us take afresh to ourselves
the shield of faith, and quench the devil's fiery darts. Here today,
let us take afresh to ourselves the whole armour of God, that we may be
enabled to discern and to withstand the principalities and powers - the
perverse and deceitful spiritual principles which govern the darkness of the
present age; and thus be enabled to serve the Lord, as our Collect says,
"with a quiet mind."