When our son John was stationed in Afghanistan, we were fortunate to be able to have Skype conversations during his deployment.
The time difference between Jefferson and Afghanistan is 8.5 hours. So when we were getting ready for bed, John was getting ready for a new day.
In addition to training Afghan soldiers how to fire weapons, John and his team accompanied high ranked personnel from the base to the airport. This was a dangerous part of his mission because of the high possibility of enemy attacks along the route and because of the possibility that IED’s were planted along the way.
The interceptor body armor system he wore is designed to stop a 124-grain full metal bullet at 1400 feet-per-second. When all the pieces of the inceptor body armor are in place, it weighs 33 pounds.
Then he loaded his M9 Beretta pistol and strapped on his M16 service rifle.
It was bit difficult talking about the everyday things going on in our world while watching John strap on all of his gear, knowing that he was facing evil so great that he might not make it home that day.
To his friends in Ephesus, Paul wanted them to understand that their struggle against evil was real, so he gave them the image of a soldier putting on armor. Paul called it the armor of God.
Paul said this armor includes the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the gospel of peace, a shield of faith, a helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, and prayer used as his way of staying alert.
I don’t know what you think about evil. It’s difficult to deny that it is real. It goes by many different names. Paul believed it was a real spiritual force that is present in the world that must be resisted and combated.
He taught that if we are not properly equipped or if we do not have the Advocate, that is, God’s Holy Spirit escorting us through this world, evil can consume our souls.
However, be careful about those people who use the fear of evil to work you into a frenzy, getting your anxiety so high that you become easily manipulated and gripped with fear. The Apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy that “God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 1 Timothy 1:7
Just open your eyes to the world around you. Draw your own conclusions. I think most of you will conclude that there is a battle going on for our souls, that is, what we think and believe and how we live, the essence of who we are. We need to be alert, wise, and protected, but not afraid, if we have God’s spirit in our lives.
What we don’t often understand about evil is that it appears to be beautiful at times, it may smell good, feel good, and taste good. It may tickle our ears. That’s the bait before the trap is sprung. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Cor. 11:14).
Jesus believed that prayer was one of the most effective tools in doing battle against evil. Prayer helps us stay alert to Satan’s scheming ways.
Luke has shown us how frequently Jesus prayed throughout his ministry. From Luke’s perspective, Jesus lived out Paul’s commandment to pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
As Luke records some of Jesus’ final days before he was crucified, we see that prayer frames his last moments with his disciples.
Let me set the stage for you. The setting is Jerusalem. It is the yearly celebration of the Passover. The faithful Jews have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the yearly festival commemorating Moses leading the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. At this time each year a Passover Lamb was killed and unleavened bread was eaten.
Jesus had arranged for his disciples to eat the Passover meal together in an upper room. There Jesus took the cup and he gave thanks and said, “Divide this among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
Jesus is giving thanks on a night he is going to be arrested, the night before he is going to be killed. Jesus understands that evil looms and that his death is near. Yet the content of his prayer is one of thanks because he knows God is going to provide an answer through his life to evil’s most destructive force of all, which is death.
And then he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Now this is the first time these men have ever eaten bread served for the Passover and heard these words, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Perhaps they chewed on these words a bit as they ate their lamb and the trimmings to go along with it.
After the meal, Jesus took the cup again saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine at the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. (v. 20-22)
Jesus believed in confronting evil. Edmond Burke once said “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Jesus came to do something about evil. He expects us to do something about evil as well. Mostly, he wants us to combat it in our own hearts. To have any chance at that, we need our armor in place.
Peter apparently thought he had all he needed to confront evil. Apparently, Peter carried a sword around with him. He expected trouble. Peter would have likely been a member of the NRA. Had guns been around in Jesus’ day, he would have been packing. He was ready to defend Jesus.
Jesus knew something about Peter he didn’t know about himself. Jesus knew that his sword would not give him the courage he thought he had. Nor would the sword stomp out evil.
So Jesus says to Simon Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (vs. 31-32)
The phrase “sift you as wheat,” means doing something to make the faith of Peter and the other disciples fail. This phrase is a visual image of throwing people into a sieve and shaking them around until they are so weak and torn that they will let go of their faith and until they fall as faithless people. http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/the-sifting-of-simon-peter
The evil one will use anything or a combination of things, to sift us as wheat: debt, disease, divorce, death, suffering, adultery, pornography, confusion about our sexual identity, fornication, gossip, slander, poverty, jealousy, anger, abuse, fear, and greed.
Jesus knew what Peter was going to do and so Jesus told Peter that he had prayed for him.
Jesus tells Peter, “When you have won the battle, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus believed that Peter would win the battle!
What was Peter’s reaction? “I don’t need prayers. I am ready to go to prison with you. I’m ready to die with you right now.” Can we add arrogance and pride to the list of things evil will use to sift us as wheat?
So Jesus tells Peter, “I tell you Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Things started out with Peter doing just as he said he would. The soldiers came to the Garden of Gethsemane, led there by Judas to arrest Jesus. Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus and with it he cut off the ear of one of the soldiers, likely just missing killing him before he was detained, only to watch Jesus heal the soldier of his wound.
Then, Peter followed from a distance as Jesus was detained and put on trial. He was recognized three times in the middle of the courtyard near the house of the High Priest, and each time Peter had a chance to identify himself with Jesus, but each time he swore he didn’t know him.
Then the rooster crowed. That’s when Peter knew:
“It’s me, it’s me O, Lord, standing in the need of prayer/ It’s me, it’s me O, Lord, standing in the need of prayer/
Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer/ Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer/
It’s me, it’s me O, Lord, standing in the need of prayer/ It’s me, it’s me O, Lord, standing in the need of prayer/
Not the elder, nor the deacon, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer/ Not the elder, nor the deacon, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer/
It’s me, it’s me O, Lord, standing in the need of prayer/ It’s me, it’s me O, Lord, standing in the need of prayer/”
Fortunately, for Peter, Jesus had prayed for him. “But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Even though Jesus prayed for him, Peter still had to respond. And he did. After the resurrection Peter met Jesus by the Sea of Galilee and told he loved him. Jesus said, “Well if you love me, shepherd my sheep.”
Following the resurrection and Jesus’ ascension into heaven, Peter become the leader of a movement that began the Christian church.
God-fearing Jews from many nations were in Jerusalem celebrating the Festival of Weeks, which was 50 days after the Feast of First Fruits, which is when Jesus rose from the dead. We call that day Easter.
There were Jewish pilgrims from many different countries there celebrating this festival when God sent His Holy Spirit, which enabled them to hear each other’s language as if it were their own.
Peter stood up to address the crowd that day to explain what was happening. The prayers of Jesus had not only kept Peter from being consumed from evil; the prayers of Jesus empowered Peter. That day because of the message Peter spoke and the presence of the Holy Spirit about three thousand people believed and were baptized.
Perhaps you are thinking, “Well, that’s great that Jesus prayed for Peter, but what about me?”
Well, you are just as important as Peter.
The scriptures tell us that the role of Jesus, the Great High Priest, is to make intercession for us.
Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus lives to intercede for those to come to Him.
The reason not everyone comes is that there is a battle taking place for our souls. Some people are going to make room for Jesus in their hearts and others are not.
God cannot make you put on the armor He provides. He prays that you will, an armor that includes truth, righteousness, peace, faith, the word of God, salvation, and prayer.
We often fail in the same places Peter failed. We are arrogant enough to think that we don’t need prayer. We are not humble enough to ask for it.
Who will let go of their pride and acknowledge that without God, you are a ship drifting without a sail, a boat without a rudder, a vehicle without an engine, a garden without any seeds?
This morning, God wants you to acknowledge that you need Him. Not only will God restore you unto himself, but God wants to empower you and use you as a blessing to others.
So as you take the Lord’s Supper today, what part of the Armor of God do you need to keep your soul safe from evil and in communion with God? Are you truthful with God and others? Are you in a right relationship with God and others? Do you have a peace in your life because of the Good News of Jesus?
Does your faith protect you from an unfair world and times of suffering? Do you have assurance of your salvation? Do you use the Bible to give you guidance and direction? Does prayer permeate your day?
As a Christian, these things provide protection for you against evil. If you are missing any of this armor, you stand in evil’s destructive path.
You are invited now to talk to God about these things as you acknowledge Jesus’ role in defeating death, our greatest enemy, as we share in the Lord’s Supper together.