Each Sunday I seek to open my sermon with a story or illustration to catch your attention, to set the theme for the sermon. This morning that has already been done for us through the sacraments which serve as bookends to the sermon. While our passage this morning, Ephesians 6:16-17, does not specifically deal with baptism and the Lords Supper, what those sacraments picture are dealt with in our passage. So lets turn once again to Ephesians 6 where Paul describes Gods gracious protection provided for us in Christ and we will look at the three items this morning through the lens of the means of grace God provides for His people.
Last week we examined the first three pieces of armor. We saw how the belt of truth formed the foundation upon which all else is attached. The breastplate of righteousness reminds us that Christs perfect keeping of Gods Law is declared to be ours so that we can in turn live the life God calls us to live. The Gospel shoes give us the needed stability as we know that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This armor is not something we manufacture; it is not protection we hammer out over time and eventually become a warrior for God. Rather, this protection belongs to each and every believer by nature of his connection to Christ.
The next three pieces continue this theme of Gods provision for the health and safety of His people. In verse 16 Paul begins with the command in the NIV as "take up" which connotes the idea of taking that which has been provided, but in verse 17 Paul uses another word which is best translated as "receive." Our protection against sin and discouragement comes not from within, but outside of ourselves. They are gifts from a giving God. Lets take a look at the shield, the helmet and the sword.
Shield of Faith
As kids, my friends and I would love to play as though we were knights or some Roman soldiers. Wed find a fair sized stick off the wood pile and grab the lids to the metal garbage cans. The sound of wood clanging on steel was out-done first by our mothers yelling that someones eye would be put out or our fathers bellowing about the dents in the cans. The round shields we used are not what is pictured here. Roman soldiers used two different shields. There was the small round buckler most suitable for close combat, when soldiers fought alone. But the word Paul uses here is thureos which was the large oblong shield, 4ft x2½ ft . The word literally means door. The small buckler was not much to hide behind, but this shield, made of wood, covered in leather and metal, was developed by the Greeks as they perfected the phalanx, where soldiers would line in several rows or columns in a box shape. The soldiers in the front and on the side would join shield to shield, forming an almost impenetrable wall around them. The soldiers in the interior of this wall would raise their shields above their heads and in the same fashion would join shield to shield with those who were beside and in front of them. This provided them with a roof of protection.
As the Roman army moved forward, it was like the moving of a living armored tank. As the enemy would hurl rocks, spears, and arrows at this moving fortress the soldiers inside would remain safe and protected from this bombardment of missiles. It was not enough just to send some pointy arrows. Many of these arrows were wrapped in pieces of cloth and soaked in pitch. The tips would be set ablaze and the arrow shot at the enemy. Such flaming missiles could inflict serious damage on unprotected troops. The fiery arrows were frequently not aimed at any particular object, but were to cause confusion and panic prior to an infantry assault by causing terror, starting fires, and even catching robes on fire.
This shield which God supplies is the shield of faith.
Faith is the simple hand outstretched to receive what God gives. It is by faith that we enter the Christian life. It is by faith continued to trust Gods promises. It is not simply faith in general, it is faith in particular. It is faith in Jesus Christ. The centrality of faith is made clear by the often repeated verse from Hab 2:4: "The righteous will live by faith." The shield of faith is the confidence in Gods power, the trusting in His sovereign grace to protect us.
In order to withstand the assault of the evil one, it will not do to have faith in just anything. Paul is not just saying, "You gotta have faith! Just believe and all will be well." Just as a shield of paper mache may look impressive, it would collapse with the first blow. In the same way, to trust in that which is not trustworthy will fail. The object of faith is what matters the most. If the object is faulty or false then no matter how much one believes, the faith is misplaced.
We are often assailed by the puncture of discouragement and the burning of doubt.
Our adversary knows our weaknesses, our failures and faults. Our sins are enlarged before our eyes and so we wonder if God can ever forgive us. Our doubts regarding Gods love and trustworthiness at times will overwhelm us.
Is God really gracious or is all this a fanciful story? Can I depend on Gods Word?
Am I really a Christian, especially given my sinfulness? Havent I worn out Gods grace?
Other times the arrows which seek to burn us seem pleasant at first as our imaginations are filled with proud thoughts of self-sufficiency, of anger and envy, of lust and personal rights.
How could God be angry with me since there are people far worse than I?
Havent I suffered enough; dont I deserve at least something pleasurable now?
At times such as those, when we find ourselves in the midst of an assault, our best safeguard is not introspection, but looking toward God, not generating enough faith to withstand, but looking in faith to the one who will make you stand.
This shield does not protect you from physical suffering, does not guarantee a life of ease
The great chapter on faith, Hebrews 11, describes those who were commended for their faith. As you read the list you read of people whose faith did not create a life of ease, but whose faith sustained them through suffering, who could withstand the fiery arrows of sin, Satan and the world. (Hebrews 11:32-39)
What faith does, though, is to receive what God has promised, the smile of His favor. It causes us to withstand doubt and depression because it believes that as a loving Father, He will protect us. Faith receives His work on our behalf, trust that God is for us, God is with us, God is in us.
How does faith relate to Baptism and the Lords Supper?
It is by faith we receive the benefits of Gods grace. The power, the efficacy of baptism is not in the water or magical words which I say. Faith is in believing Gods promise. Faith is holding up the shield despite the blazing barbs bursting from the sky. When it comes to the sacraments, faith is a central element. It is by faith you receive both the sign and the seal of the sacrament.
The sign is a pointer. The water, the bread and wine are not the reality in themselves, but point to what is real. When you are traveling and become hungry, you may see a sign for MacDonalds. You dont pull off the road and sit beneath the sign thinking that is the restaurant, nor do you munch on the billboard (although that may be just as tasty and better for you). Rather the sign points you in the right direction. When water was placed on Mollys head, that is a sign, that we must be cleansed by Christ because of our sinfulness, that we are identified as His very own. When we take the Lords Supper, we are being pointed to the fact that we need nourishment, that we must be feed. The Gospel must be taken within to give us the strength to obey.
What about a seal? In Romans 4:9-11 Paul refers to the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision as a sign and seal. Remember what a seal is. A seal is a sign with authority. It goes one step further. There is power behind what is signified. For some Christians, baptism and Communion are just signs, just pictures; they are only external forms of an internal truth. It is like the sign along the road for deer crossing. Those signs are merely suggestions, reminders, but they hold no power. Ive yet to see deer lining up behind the sign waiting to cross.
But when Paul says that Abraham received the sign of circumcision (the picture), and then qualifies it even more by calling it a seal of righteousness (the power) we see that there is something more. In the ancient world that which was sealed pointed to a power which went way beyond the wax seal, for embedded in that seal was the insignia (sign) of the king. His authority stood behind that sign. To break the sign without his permission meant the kings armies would be hounding you. If you received a letter with the seal and it was friendly toward you, you were able to trust what it said.
When we say baptism is a sign, we are saying that it pictures and empowers a spiritual reality beyond just water. There is something more to Communion than just bread and thinking real hard about Jesuss death. God, by grace, will give us all the promises of the Gospel. How do we get them? We receive them by faith.
Back in Romans 4:11 notice how Abraham received what was promised "by faith." The power, the efficacy of the sacraments comes only when faith is attached to them. Two examples:
Jacob and Esau both received the sign and seal of circumcision. Jacob, for all his deceptions and sins, believed God at Bethel and the covenant promises were his own. What was signified in circumcision and seal as his own, came as he joined faith to the promise. That faith became a shield, a protection for him when he faced problems with Laban, when he later faced an angry brother, when he lost his wife and later is favorite son. Esau on the other hand also had the sign, but when faced with the choice of satisfying his own stomach, he sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. There was no faith, so that which signified Gods grace, that which would be a blessing to him, was worthless and cast aside.
When we celebrate the Lords Supper I read from 1 Corinthians 11 as the words of institution. In that passage there is a stern warning not to eat and drink in an unworthy manner lest Gods wrath is on you. If the bread and wine were merely signs, what would be the problem? But they are signs and seals and it is necessary that faith be attached to them.
How does baptism become a shield of faith?
Not magically, as though the water itself were some protective coating keeping you from all harm. Rather, when faith is attached to it, there is the latching onto the powerful promise God has made. When doubts fly and you wonder if you are a Christian, look to your baptism. Gods mark has been on you since you were an infant; you are a part of a covenant family. If not raised in a Christian home, then you have the knowledge that despite your past, Gods grace is still yours. Baptism is a great comfort when under attack. In the years to come we can remind Molly Mae that just as she was passive in her baptism, so in her justification she is the recipient of Gods grace. It was not based on what she had done, but His promise alone.
Helmet of Salvation
No Roman soldier would go into battle without his helmet. A blow to the head could be fatal. With his helmet, however, the Roman solider could fight with confidence. Roman military helmets were of two types: the galea (made of leather) or the cassis (metal). The helmet had a band to protect the forehead and plates for the cheeks, and extended down in back to protect the neck. When the helmet was strapped in place, it exposed little besides the eyes and mouth. The metal helmets, due to their weight, were lined with sponge or felt.
When we come to the helmet of salvation, it may appear that the armor becomes quite broad, almost meaningless. Weve already looked at righteousness, the Gospel of peace and faith, so where does salvation fit in here? Part of the problem is that we see salvation as one-dimensional.
Perhaps some have heard or read of R.C. Sprouls account of being accosted by the zealous evangelist at Temple University who asked him: "Are you saved?" Sprouls first impulse was to say, "Im obviously not saved from strangers asking me questions like this!" But he refrained. But what he said was equally confusing to the fellow: "Saved from what?"
When we see this word, we need to know what salvation entails. It is used in three senses.
There is the past tense of our salvation in that we are saved from the penalty of sin. I am no longer guilty. This is what is entailed in the doctrine of justification. Our salvation was accomplished 2000 years ago on the Cross when God imputed my sins to Jesus and then applied to me Christs perfect obedience to the Law. God declared me righteous when, with a new heart, I looked in faith toward Christs work for me. To that I can declare I am saved.
In this sense we can say the helmet of salvation is the protection from assault as we know that God has called me as his own and secured me forever. My sins have already be removed and Christs perfect obedience is now mine. In that sense it is similar to the breastplate.
When we talk about the sacraments, this is where baptism falls. It pictures the cleansing necessary to be called a Christian. It points to initiation and declaration of what God does and what we receive passively. Baptism is not about what I am professing before God, but what God has done for me.
There is also a present tense to salvation. I was saved from the penalty of sin and I am now being saved from the power of sin. The past event is what Paul describes in Ephesians 1 and the present work is Ephesians 5. If the past event is justification, this is sanctification. Once the penalty is removed, we then spend our lives living in faith that God will save us from the power of sin.
God is working out in our lives what He has worked in us already. Our salvation is secured, but there is much work which needs to be done. If you are a "This Old House" fan, justification is the purchase of the old wreck. The deed is in the hands of the owner. That will not change. But sanctification is what the show is all about it is ripping out the old and making it like new once again. There is a lot of scraping, sanding, refining, purifying.
If baptism is the sign and seal of our justification, then the Lords Supper is the sign and seal of our sanctification. Ever wonder why we baptize once, but continually eat and drink? Justification is but one act, whereas sanctification is ongoing. We eat and drink because we need constant nourishment. Just as if no one would say, "I ate last October why should I do it again?" so also we constantly eat to keep up our strength. If we are passive in justification, we are active in sanctification as we, in faith, look to God to grow us. We continue believing the good news that God is reconciled with us because of Christ.
How does salvation relate to the future? In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul uses the same imagery of a helmet and salvation. But notice there the difference: the hope of salvation as a helmet. Here we see a future aspect. In the past we were saved from the penalty of sin. In the present we are being saved from the power of sin. In the future we will finally be saved from the presence of sin. This we call glorification.
None will reach that state until standing in the presence of God. It is only then that the presence of sin will be forever eradicated from our lives. If you still wrestle with sin, you need the helmet of salvation to be reminded again and again that in the past the penalty is gone; right now the power which sin has over you is removed (although we certainly run back to sin again and again), and the helmet will protect us by teaching us the hope of our salvation in the future.
Which sacrament serves as the sign and seal of our glorification? None; when we are glorified we no longer will need those pointers as we will have the reality before us as we worship the Lamb slain for us, seated on His throne.
Sword of the Spirit
The Roman sword (macharia) was a short sword (2 feet long) which served for both offensive and defensive battles. It was designed so that the legionnaire could cut and thrust from any position. The sword is modified by the Spirit and this piece of the armor is called the Word of God. This takes us back to the beginning. Just as the first item is truth, the last mentioned goes back to the source of truth, Gods Word. It is used both to protect us, as well as for us to move forward, to effect change and overturn the demonic dominions of our world.
What is more, the Word of God is linked with the Spirit of God. Gods Word is not produced from the fertile imaginations of people grasping from good thoughts about God. The Bible is Gods Word to us. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us it is God breathed, theopneustos. The breath of God, His Spirit, worked through holy men to write His word. When battling the evil one we need a weapon we know is trustworthy. When we use that which is given to us by God and is now empowered by God, we have great confidence in our battle. Whether we need to teach, to rebuke, correct or be trained in the righteous life God demands, this tool is all we need.The Word of God as a sword is used in Hebrews 4:12, where its double-edged power is seen as it can divide the undivideable; it can accomplish what nothing else can. If you want to get at the heart of the heart of the matter, Gods Word is the only means. When Christ was attacked by Satan in the wilderness, it was to Gods Word He turned. When confronted with sinful thoughts, there is nothing else which can accomplish the necessary overturning of evil. What is the relationship between Gods Word and the sacraments? They are bound together. For there to be faith which leads to salvation, Gods Word must be present (Romans 10:9). We cant imagine that the water of baptism without the continual preaching and reading of Gods Word will do anything. For there to be growth in the Christian life, just as we eat and drink to stay strong, so we must feast on Gods Word. The sacraments are means of grace which must be accompanied with the Word of God. Sacraments are Gods Word exemplified and illustrated. They are a tangible Gospel. With our eyes we read the ink on the page. With our ears we hear the words read; so also we taste the bread and smell the wine. When you are discouraged, when it is hard to believe, God comes to you with a kiss of His grace. In a tangible way, before your eyes and in your hands you hold His promise. A husband may tell his wife that he loves her. The declaration is important and vital. But there comes that moment when what he has said is made more certain when he turns his head to give her a kiss. A kiss is a sign and a seal of his love. In that act there is the physical conveyance of what he has professed to be true. If the man never said a word to the woman, but tried to kiss, the kiss could be misinterpreted, misunderstood. You need both, words and actions. God conveys His love toward us in the Words we read. They are very important. The give us the information we need. But God has made us not only creatures of intellect, not just spiritual beings where words without flesh are all we need. No; as we are created beings, made of flesh which God has pronounced as good, so God condescends to us in the incarnation as Christ took on flesh, the Word was incarnate. In the same way, the words of the Gospel are communicated to us through water, bread and wine.