The sermon text for this Sunday includes this verse:
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
So, let’s play Guess the Sermon Hymn.
It must be Onward Christian Soldiers, right? Sorry, no!
Our sermon hymn is one that I did not know before this week, “Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ you” by Pastor Wilhelm Arends. The tune, “wachet auf”, is a familiar tune, but this text was new to me – and what a text! Arends takes the idea of being a soldier of Christ Jesus, puts it into the context of an epic battle scene, and gives us a solid dose of Christ-centered Lutheran theology.
Here’s the first stanza:
Rise! To arms! With prayer employ you,
O Christians, lest the foe destroy you;
For Satan has designed your fall.
Wield God’s Word, the weapon glorious;
Against all foes be thus victorious,
For God protects you from them all.
Fear not the hordes of hell,
Here is Emmanuel.
Hail the Savior!
The strong foes yield to Christ, our shield,
And we, the victors, hold the field.
The serious nature of our spiritual life is inescapable in this first stanza. Satan, our foe, has designed our fall and has come to destroy us. The problem can’t be ignored; we must get up and fight. This warning comes to us most clearly in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”.
Against Satan, we do not use man-made weapons, but we use the sword of God’s Word. We learn in Hebrews, chapter four that, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword”. In our Epistle reading for this Sunday, from 2nd Timothy, Paul, a prisoner, says, “8Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” Satan can put us in prison, but he can do nothing against the Word of God.
Are there other weapons to be used? Of course! There’s a whole list in Ephesians, chapter 6: “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,”.
We have all of these things with which to fight the evil one, but in the second half of this stanza we learn of something even more astounding. Christ the Savior comes to fight for us! The hymn-writer, Arends, calls our shield “Christ.” In Ephesians, our shield is called “faith”. This fits perfectly because it is through faith, and faith alone, that we cling to Christ, who wins the victory for us.
Cast afar this world’s pleasure
And boldly strive for heav’nly treasure.
Be steadfast in the Savior’s might.
Trust the Lord, who stands beside you,
For Jesus from all harm will hide you.
By faith you conquer in the fight.
Take courage, weary soul!
Look forward to the goal!
Joy awaits you.
The race well run,
Your long war won,
Your crown shines splendid as the sun.
Now that Jesus has won the victory, we can get back to our hedonistic lifestyles, right? Wrong! Our treasure is in heaven, as Jesus says in Matthew chapter 6, “”Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
We do not trust in our possessions, our income, our mutual funds, or even our families and friends. Our heavenly Father knows that we need those things, but we trust in our Lord Jesus, who keeps us from harm and gives us the victory. This eternal victory does not come by our own works, but it is by faith alone. “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
The poem next tells us that we should take courage, even though we grow weary, because we are striving towards our goal like runners in a race. There is a heavenly crown awaiting us at the end.
Wisely fight, for time is fleeting;
The hours of grace are fast retreating;
Short, short is this our earthly way.
When the Lord the dead will waken
And sinners all by fear are shaken,
The saints with joy will greet that day.
Praise God, our triumph’s sure.
We need not long endure
Scorn and trial.
Our Savior King His own will bring
To that great glory which we sing.
Paul writes in Romans, chapter 13, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” We are in what the Bible calls the “last days” (Hebrews 1). We live with a sense of urgency, knowing that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. For those who do not know Christ by faith, it will be a day of terror. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”. For those of us who do know Christ by faith, the day will be one of great joy, as our hymn says. The book of Revelation describes a great city, the new Jerusalem, where we will dwell with Jesus forever. I leave you with Paul’s description of the second coming from 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4:
16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.