In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Meanwhile, non-Jews wanted to hear you be eloquent, philosophical, smart, wise, a good speaker, a convincing orator. And we like a good speaker, a good preacher don’t we. In fact, that’s a big thing people look for when looking for a church.
Different people look for different signs of a good church, of the Holy Spirit at work in a place. Sometimes it is by how friendly the church is to them. So if church isn’t friendly then such a person may even say that that church is dead. The Holy Spirit isn’t present there. Because that’s the sign they look for.
Others judge by how emotionally affecting or entertaining a preacher is. Can he pull at your heart strings? Can he hold your attention in dramatic fashion? And people flock to church where they put on a good show. It doesn’t even matter what’s being taught there. If your emotions are tweaked, your attention is held, that’s the sign. I’ve found a good church. The Holy Spirit must be here. So many people flocking here, for surely lots of people coming is God’s work! But ponder this. Islam is currently the fastest growing religion around the world. Is that God’s work? People flock to hockey games and concerts. Is that God’s work? Our Lord once had crowds flocking to Him. He even fed 5000 men, not counting the women and children who were also there. But then when those crowds came after Him looking for more food, more signs, He told them, “All you want is bread to fill your belly. You don’t have faith in me. I am the bread of life! The food I give is my own body and the drink I give is my own blood.” And they said, “This is hard teaching, who can accept it?” And those crowds melted away. According to our modern signs of God's blessing our Lord’s ministry was an utter failure!
In fact, by the time of His death, though the crowds continued to be enthralled by the miraculous signs, all He had were 120 faithful followers. Not very impressive by today’s megachurch standards.
But Jesus was not going to give them what their itching ears wanted to hear. The signs they looked for to make their lives better weren’t going to be given to them by Jesus. He did not come as a bread king to fill your pantry with bread you don’t have to work for, or your bank account with money you haven’t earned. He has not come as a life-coach or self-help expert to fix everything in your life with 10 simple steps. He has come to bring salvation by fulfilling all the promises of God with His own death. And accomplishing this salvation He gives the benefits to us by His Word when it is heard!
And when the crowds fled, Jesus turning to disciples said, “Do you want to go away as well? Peter speaking for the Twelve said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” They needed no signs. The plain Word of God, which is the power of God unto salvation, had raised them to a life that didn’t look for signs.
For Jesus does not give you your heart’s desire, the signs you sinfully seek. He is not at work in such signs. Those are our delusions fed to us by Satan, the master deceiver. He is instead at work in His Word.
When you demand a sign of God, all you will get is His Word. In which His power is hidden. But when you trust in His Word, you just might get a faith affirming sign. For the Word of God is the power of God unto salvation. It is the sword of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word. And never apart from it. The Holy Spirit does not work where Word has not been proclaimed. Thus miraculous signs only come with and on account of the Word, and not apart from the Word of God.
And as Christians who trust in that Word, who have no need of signs, who repent of our false belief in them, instead we take up daily in faith, what the Word gives: the complete armor and weapons of God. These let us stand against the deceitful methods of Satan.
Saint Paul compares God’s armor to that of a Roman centurion. The Roman centurion is a lasting image of military efficiency and strength. He was outfitted, he was fierce, he was courageous and did not back down from the enemy. And to prepare for battle a centurion has to start with his underclothes so that his armor doesn’t harm him. And those clothes have to be held in place firmly otherwise all the armor can get twisted up and kill you in the midst of battle. And what is it that holds it all in place? The belt. The belt of Truth. So, dear Christians, cinch God’s truth on tight. Be bound in the truth of God’s Word. Study it. Memorize it. Know what it teaches and you will not get tripped up in the midst of the battle. For truth girds your loins. Which is to say, truth keeps everything in its place, giving you confidence, for it is the right foundation to live your life from and fight against the devil from.
And the truth is you are a sinner who can not stand before God or fight Satan unless you are declared righteous by your heavenly Father. It’s God’s Word that declares you righteous, giving you a mighty breastplate that keeps you safe. It guards your heart and life from assaults of Satan. For yes you are a sinner. But Christ has declared you righteous. Satan can’t attack your heart, he can’t whisper to you that you don’t belong to God, for God Himself has declared you righteous in Holy Absolution. He has claimed you as His own and fitted you with a mighty breastplate with His insignia on it.
And this righteousness fits your feet with readiness. You are ready to make your stand, to walk shoulder to shoulder with your fellow warriors for you have been grounded in the peace that passes all understanding. Once you are declared righteous, once that breastplate is strapped onto you, a confidence, a peace, a security, a sure foundation to stand on is yours, making you ready for the battle.
But before you go out, don’t forget your shield. Always carry it with you. For the Roman shield was the lynch pin of their success. Roman soldiers formed up in tight ranks with shields wide enough to cover their whole body, tall enough to hide behind. So standing shoulder to shoulder in tight formation, nothing could penetrate their defenses. And so they advanced against their enemies, inch by inch, step by step, using that shield wall as protection. And the men behind them covering them from the top with those same shields. So Satan’s feeble attempts to penetrate your defenses are quenched when you stand covered by your shield of faith. Satan sends many flaming darts at you. Darts that hitting your flesh will inflame the sinful passions with in you, till they become a raging inferno in you that threatens to devour and overwhelm your faith. But when you hide behind the faithfulness of Christ your shield who has borne your sins to cross and extinguished them in His own flesh, then these flaming darts of temptation, even when they lead to actual sin in you are quenched in Christ Jesus. They are taken away from you, vanquished. They come to nothing. For Christ has already taken them in His flesh on the cross.
But in order to advance, you’ve got to poke your head out from behind your shield, leaving your head dramatically exposed to a kill shot. So accept, the helmet of salvation given you. Let it be placed on you by your commanding officer. For it will save you in the midst of the battle.
And don’t forget your sword. Its your only offensive weapon you have. It pokes out from behind your shield, again and again, warding off fatal blows and striking victoriously at just the right time. This sword is not large. It is small. It is for close combat. Now a Roman soldier had more weapons than this, but the Christian does not. For we don’t just shoot pot shots at people, or at Satan. We have to get in close and personal. We have to speak God’s Word to the people God puts in our lives right into the midst of Satan’s attacks on them. That’s how this sword of the Spirit works.
It is a surgical tool. It is not meant only to kill, but to kill and make a live. For that’s what this Word of God does. It slays sin in you, releasing you from the power of the devil and raising you to new life in faith.
You don’t need signs and wonders. You have the Word of God. At the seventh hour, the number of salvation, this Word heals all your woes, cleanses you of sins, purifies you of what contaminates you, fits you with righteousness and everything you need.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.