Apollos – Armed and Dangerous

“He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately…he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.  For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:24-25,27-28)

Since we’re on the subject of spiritual warfare, and since this is “The Armory” after all, let’s talk a little bit about some of your weapons.

The first thing that we need to understand when we analyze our personal spiritual arsenal is that every weapon with which we have been armed is from God.  There are no exceptions.  All of our gifts and abilities come to us by the grace of our Heavenly Father, and we are to use them in service to Him.

Now I realize that you’ve worked really hard at honing your intellect, or strengthening your physical abilities, or sharpening your public speaking skills, or developing a killer talent with creative writing, or whatever else you pride yourself on being great at.  But once you start to trace the origins of your personal knacks and aptitudes, it doesn’t take long for God’s hand to clearly appear in the picture.  He planted a seed in your mind or body, grew it daily by guiding your life in a certain direction, and brought it to fruition by mercifully preserving your faculties so that you could use this gift to His glory and in service to your neighbor.

That’s one type of weapon, and these God-given/God-grown abilities can certainly be useful in battling the unbelief that is so rampant in our dark world.  But unless they are coupled with the Word of God and with the faith that is given to us through the Holy Spirit, they will never penetrate the enemy’s defenses.

The real armaments of God are undisputable gifts to us, given in mercy by the grace of a loving and caring Father.  He has caused the Word of God – our Sword of the Spirit, a weapon of keen power and flawless design – to be passed down to us through many generations by the miracle of faith in every age.  He has sent His Holy Spirit to stir up our hearts in faith toward Him, enabling us to use the many abilities we possess as munitions against Satan’s worldly onslaught.

Apollos was certainly a force to be reckoned with.  He possessed a brilliant mind.  He had been given a fine education.  He was endowed with remarkable boldness, tremendous public speaking skills, and profound powers of persuasion.  But even with all this, he would have been a useless drone if it weren’t for the other gifts of God: his knowledge of the Scriptures, his Christian upbringing and instruction, and the faith that grew out of this spiritual training.

Like Apollos, you have been given many personal abilities and gifts that could be used for a variety of worldly purposes.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; invest your energies first and foremost into study of the Scriptures, prayer, worship, and receiving the Word of God and His Sacraments.  Witness the miracle as your own faith grows and is strengthened by God’s grace.  Then all that you are and all that you possess will be transformed into a weapon of Divine Light as God uses your whole person in His service.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for the many gifts and abilities which You have bestowed upon me.  I thank You most of all for the free gift of salvation through the faith that You have granted me by Your grace.  Help me to use all that I have and all that I am in service to You, glorifying You for Your great mercy and serving those around me in love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Stephen – Rejected by Men

“Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?  They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.  And now you have betrayed and murdered him” (Acts 7:52).

If you have ever been scorned, ridiculed, tormented, or in any other way persecuted for speaking the Gospel, then know that you are in good company.

Stephen, “a man full of God’s grace and power” who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8), paid the ultimate price for his witness concerning the Lord Jesus.  While the apostles had recently rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41), Stephen now gains the distinction of becoming the first recorded martyr of the Christian faith.

Stephen and the other apostles discovered the hard way that sinful human beings don’t enjoy hearing God’s Word.  We (all of us) become defensive when convicted by God’s just and righteous Law.  We even resist the Gospel because it forces us to bear our souls before God and face our own wretched sinfulness.  It leaves us helpless and vulnerable, reminding us that we are powerless to achieve salvation through our own works.  We would rather exalt ourselves in the eyes of men than humble ourselves before the mercy seat of Almighty God.

Those who preach and confess the Word publicly are often met with resistance and hostility.  For the apostles, it meant torture and humiliation.  For Stephen, it meant death by stoning.  For us, it sometimes means loss of reputation or even employment.

How are we to react when our testimony is met with hard hearts and stiff necks?  We can take our cue from the great heroes of the faith who have gone before us.  The apostles rejoiced that they were permitted to suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name.  Stephen – like his Lord – forgave his murderers even as they carried out his death sentence.  We too should try to recognize that those who revile us are prisoners of darkness who need our prayers and the Holy Spirit in their lives.  God instructs us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to love even our “enemies” (Matthew 5:44).  His exhortation to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23) reminds us that our ministry to others may require personal sacrifice on our behalf.  Others undoubtedly sacrificed much to bring the Gospel to you and me, and Jesus sacrificed all to make that Gospel a reality.

In the midst of whatever suffering we are called to endure for the sake of Jesus’ name and whatever resistance we are met with, we must never forget that the Word of God is living and active.  Though our own powers of persuasion may be feeble and faulty, God’s Word is at work doing what it says it will.  In the time of Stephen and the apostles, scores of people were coming to faith in Christ Jesus – including many priests and influential Jews – despite the suffering and persecution of those who proclaimed the Gospel.  In our time, the Holy Spirit continues to work in the hearts of those who hear the words we proclaim; even in those who seem only to scorn and revile us for our testimony.  For this, we give thanks to God for His exceeding grace and mercy!

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the strength and courage to proclaim Your Word without fear or hesitation.  Send Your Spirit to work in the hearts of all those who hear, that they may believe and live; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Mary – One Thing Needed

“…only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made…” (Luke 10:40)

Several times in the last few years, I have heard the era in which we are currently living referred to as “The Age of Distraction.”  This makes a lot of sense, given the plethora of media outlets, electronic devices, entertainment venues, and various industries that thrive by filling our spare time anything and everything to keep us busy doing something and nothing all at once.  It’s no wonder that it has become so difficult to get young people – or anyone for that matter – to focus on important issues.

But the truth is, the world has always had plenty of distractions to divert our attention away from God and what He wants us to be spending our time doing.  Honestly, it doesn’t take a whole lot.  Our sinful nature makes us predisposed to putting God last and a million other things first.  The issue here is the first commandment; giving our fear, love, and trust – as well as time, money, and attention – to God first.

It’s scary how easily we can slide down the slippery slope of idolatry.  The most frightening part is that this can even happen as we are trying to serve God.  We may feel justified in saying, “Well, I’m on the church council, teach Sunday School, serve refreshments after the service, and head up the altar guild; so I don’t think God will mind if I forget to read my Bible or talk to Him in prayer once in a while.”

But is that what Jesus wants?  “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).  In your walk with God, remember that He is primarily concerned with you.  He wants you to attend worship services so that He can work on you, not the other way around.  In His house, you sit and listen to the life-giving words of our Lord Jesus Christ, just like Mary.  You receive His body and blood through the sacrament of Holy Communion.  You receive the forgiveness of sins and are absolved of your trespasses.  God strengthens and preserves us in His Word.  We praise and serve God out of love and thankfulness to Him only after receiving the good gifts that He serves to us – otherwise we fall into the trap of trying to earn His favor by our own good works.

Martha certainly had good intentions.  However, the results of her efforts should have tipped her off the dangers she was facing.  Jesus came to bring peace and joy; Martha’s service caused her only to be “worried and upset.”  When we find that our own service to God is producing anxiety, resentment, or frustration in our hearts, we’d better take a time-out and sit down with Mary.  Listen to the Savior’s healing words.  Believe His promises.  Grow in the knowledge of His love; then return to your service, refreshed and invigorated, ready to serve Him with gladness and thanksgiving.

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to fear, love, and trust in You above all things.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation through the power of Your Word.  Help me to serve You with a cheerful heart; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Haggai – Encouragement and Caution

“’Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work.  For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt.  And my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear.’” (Haggai 2:4-5)

The prophet Haggai had been sent to the people of Israel to stir them up into action.  They had been delivered from exile and returned to their homeland, only to look first to their own affairs rather than trusting God and honoring Him by rebuilding the temple.  Their fear kept them from following His Word – fear that He would not provide for their needs.  Also, they became complacent; satisfied with themselves because they figured that by simply inhabiting the Holy Land once more they themselves were now holy.

First of all, God reminds these people through Haggai that nothing can succeed without His blessing, and nothing can fail with His support.  No matter how hard they worked the land, it would never produce in abundance if God Himself did not provide the harvest.  God had kept the land from being bountiful because the Israelites needed to understand that success in anything starts with God alone.  So He told them, “Work! – do those things that will serve and honor Me, and don’t worry about having ‘enough’ of everything else!”

This word of encouragement is true enough for us today.  As we worry about the economy and fret over personal finances, retirement funds, and a well-stocked pantry, God’s work is pursued half-heartedly at best.  We say, “I’d love to give more, but I need to take care of myself and my own family first.”  God says, “Let Me worry about the future, and you do what is needed today.”  We say, “I’d give more time to God’s service if my life weren’t so busy.”  God says, “Put away these foolish idols and live abundantly by walking with Me daily.”  We don’t have to fret over the future and fear for our well-being, because “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Along with this encouragement, Haggai brought a message of warning to the Israelites:  Living in the Holy Land does not in itself make you holy.  Holiness requires faith in the mercy of God to forgive and redeem, purchased through the sacrifice of innocent blood.  While “uncleanness” spreads easily from one vessel to another through contact, holiness does not; it requires direct contact with the sacrifice itself.

As Christians gradually become more and more worldly, we have a tendency to think we are made holy by our membership in a certain church or by our attendance record at worship.  We somehow believe that our relationships with the ungodly are a great service – that our own “holiness” rubs off on them.  We think, “I’ll change them; I’ll show them how they ought to live.”  The truth is, our own holiness comes not from anything we ourselves are or do, but only from the Sacrifice – the One Sacrifice for the sin of the world, Jesus Christ.  The holiness we have is a garment from Him, and it will not rub off on others simply by rubbing elbows with them.  They need direct contact with the Sacrifice – they need to know Jesus.  If this is not the crux of our interaction with them, chances are more likely that their “unclean” thoughts, words, and deeds will simply infect our own lives.

As we set to doing the Lord’s work first and foremost – telling the world about what He has done for us in Jesus Christ – we will reap a greater harvest than ever before.  We will sow peace, hope, and love, and gather more joy, more goodness, and more earthly and eternal blessings than we would have ever thought this dusty land could produce.  Rather than emptying ourselves into a defiled world and becoming infected with sin, we will bring anything unclean into the presence of God’s Atoning Sacrifice where it can be made pure and holy.  God’s Spirit is with us yet today; He will give us the courage and strength to do this.

“’Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’” (Malachi 3:10)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank You for blessing me with wealth enough to meet all my bodily needs and much, much more – help me to use it to further Your kingdom and tend to Your sheep.  I thank You for blessing me with an able mind and body, with health and well-being – help me to use my life in service to You and to my neighbors.  I thank You most of all for the blessing of righteousness and holiness through the atoning sacrifice of Your Son – help me to bring everyone I meet into contact with Him, that they too may be made pure and holy through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Isaiah – Ready for Orders!

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?’  And I said, ‘Here am I.  Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8)

Isaiah proclaimed the Word of the Lord abundantly during the reign of four of Judah’s kings, among which was one of the vilest to ever sit on the throne and one of the best to ever follow God’s statutes.  He continually called the children of Israel to repentance by reminding them of God’s Law and foretelling the destruction that would come if they did not turn from their sins.  But he also announced some of the most wonderful Gospel promises found in all of the Old Testament, specifically prophesying the birth and life of a Savior Messiah who would redeem the people from their sin.

Isaiah was certainly qualified to speak on the topic of God’s free redemption by His grace.  When commissioned by God to go and speak to the people of Israel, Isaiah laments over his coming into the presence of the One True God.  He understood that he was tainted with sin, and that only destruction awaited him in the presence of a just and holy God.

But Isaiah is spared – God in His grace freely removes Isaiah’s sin.  An angel takes a burning coal from the altar of atonement and touches it to Isaiah’s mouth, saying, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7).  Although Isaiah is sinful and unclean, God mercifully removes his sin, taking him instantly from ruin and destruction to cleansing and new life.  The Lord Himself makes Isaiah worthy to come into His presence, and Isaiah responds in joy and thanksgiving by gladly doing the Lord’s work; proclaiming His Word to the people.

Like Isaiah, we often feel unworthy or inadequate of the great task God has set before us.  But we also have had our sin and guilt removed by the atonement of Jesus Christ, about Whom Isaiah prophesied throughout his lifetime.  Though we were sinners, standing under judgment and eternal death, God’s grace brought us into salvation and eternal life.  How great the joy on this day, knowing what God has freely done for us!  Therefore we, like Isaiah, can rise each morning and say to God, “Here am I.  Send me!”

“Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:3-4)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for Your great mercy, by which I have been brought out of death and into abundant life.  You Yourself have made me worthy to serve You; by Your Holy Spirit, let me do so at all times gladly and willingly, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.

David – Defending God’s Honor

“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:27)

King Saul and his Israelite warriors were suffering from an acute lack of faith.  Saul went from following God’s commands and serving Him to rebellion and self-glorification in a matter of a few short years.  The Israelite warriors had forgotten that they served a powerful Heavenly King rather than a physically impressive but spiritually weak mortal king.  Their faith rested in their own power, and fear and doubt were the inevitable results.

When Goliath spews his bile once more, the Israelite warriors run for cover.  But David will not suffer His God to be mocked and scorned while His very armies are close at hand; he stands valiantly for the honor of the Almighty One.   How can we let this Philistine talk about our God like that?  The Spirit of the Lord was with David (1 Samuel 16:13,18), and from this Spirit was born the faith that God would deliver His people from their enemies.  This same Spirit gives David the courage and strength to stand up against the monstrous villain who was bringing calamity and destruction upon the Israelites.

Like Gideon, David knows that the power to defeat his enemies lies in God’s hands, not his own: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).  Because David goes forth in faith, mindful of God’s honor, glory, and purpose – and not his own fame or grandeur – the Lord gives David the victory over Goliath.

Again and again, God chooses the lowly to exalt His name.  The boy David glorifies God with his triumph over the champion of the Philistines.  His descendant, Jesus, the humble carpenter’s son, born of a virgin in a lowly manger, would bring even greater glory to the Father through His victory over the champion of this world – Satan.  The forces of death and hell were put to flight, never to menace God’s people again.  The same Spirit that gave David the faith to overcome the Philistine gives us the faith to claim Jesus’ victory for ourselves.

Armed with this faith, with God’s promise to be with us, and with a burning desire to honor our Lord and King, we venture forth onto the field of battle to encounter the forces of darkness.  Like the Israelite warriors, we often cower in our tents when we see the size and might of the foe that mocks God’s name.  But when we see our enemy through the eyes of faith, we realize, like David, that the spiritual darkness in our world is a joke compared to God’s mighty hand.  So we rise each morning, look the forces of evil in the eye, and say to our King, “Your servant will go and fight.”

“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

Prayer: Lord God, my Heavenly King, let me never lose heart on account of the darkness and adversity of this world.  Keep my faith firm, knowing that You who have delivered me from sin, death, and hell will also deliver me from all the trials of this life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, to whom all glory belongs!  Amen.