First Sunday in Lent
March 10, 2019
“Fighting the Devil”
1 Samuel 17:40-51
Then he took his staff in his hand; and he chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag, in a pouch which he had, and his sling was in his hand. And he drew near to the Philistine. So the Philistine came, and began drawing near to David, and the man who bore the shield went before him. And when the Philistine looked about and saw David, he disdained him; for he was only a youth, ruddy and good-looking. So the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’s, and He will give you into our hands.” So it was, when the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, that David hurried and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. But there was no sword in the hand of David. Therefore David ran and stood over the Philistine, took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it. 1 Samuel 17:40-51
The church in heaven is the church triumphant. The church on earth is the church militant. They are the same church, but they are not the same. The church in heaven doesn’t need to fight anymore because the enemies of the church are no more. In heaven, the saints rest from their labors. The devil cannot threaten. The world cannot entice. The sinful lusts of the flesh are gone forever. The church doesn’t fight anyone in heaven.
She fights on earth. During this holy season of Lent, the church focuses her attention on her battle against the devil. It will continue until the end of time. She fights or she dies. It has always been this way for Christ’s church.
Right after David was anointed by God’s command to be king of Israel, the Holy Spirit led him into battle against Goliath, the most powerful enemy of the children of Israel. Right after Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit in his baptism, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to do battle against the devil, the most powerful enemy of the human race. David fought for his people, Israel. Christ fought for his people, the new Israel, the Holy Christian Church.
David used weapons considered ineffective against such a powerful armed enemy: a staff and stones. Jesus used a weapon considered ineffective against the father of lies and murderer of souls: the Bible, God’s written word. Stones appeared to be a poor offensive weapon against Goliath, but David killed him with a stone. Quoting the Bible appeared to be a poor offensive weapon against the power of the devil, but it drove him away.
Had David lost the battle against Goliath, all of Israel would have fallen under the cruel domination of the Philistine army. They would have been shown no mercy. David’s victory was not just for David. It was for all of Israel. Satan’s victory against Adam did not cause the fall into sin of Adam alone, but the fall of Adam’s descendants to whom Satan shows no mercy, but Christ’s victory over the devil is the church’s victory over the devil.
David cut off Goliath’s head with the giant’s own sword. What Goliath would have used to kill David, David used to kill Goliath. What Satan would have used to destroy Jesus, Jesus used to crush the serpent’s head. Christ’s suffering and death cut off the devil’s head. Satan wanted to destroy the Son of God and retain his power over the human race. The crucifixion was the devil’s attempt to overpower Jesus, the Son of God. In fact, it was the power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to destroy the power of the devil by taking away the sin of the world. Through his death Jesus destroyed him who had the power of death, namely, the devil.
We watch David fight Goliath and we cheer. What a man! Barely a man – he was just a boy. He was a handsome boy, for sure, but certainly no soldier. Goliath was a giant of a man: six cubits and a span. A cubit is the length between the top of the middle finger and the bottom of the elbow. A span is the span of the hand stretched out. Even accounting for smaller measurements in those days, Goliath was over eight feet tall, at least twice David’s size. He was a soldier, with a soldier’s weapons, and the ability to use them. David, the underdog, defeats the far more powerful Goliath. It makes for a good story.
But it wasn’t just a boy against a giant. It was the LORD God against those who scorn him, mock him, and defy him. The giant Philistine sneered at the young man. “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?” He cursed David in the name of his gods.
Goliath knew a bit about the theology of the followers of the LORD. Israel’s faithful teachers taught them and anyone else who would listen that the LORD – a word used to identify JHWH, the personal name of God – was the only God. The Philistines were offended, disgusted, by the narrow minded insistence of Israel that their god alone was God. The Philistines had a much broader theological perspective. They did not claim that their gods alone were gods, so where do these Israelites come off making such a claim for JHWH? Religious chauvinism, that’s what that is! Narrow minded, “we’re right and everyone else is wrong” bigotry. When Goliath killed David, that would prove that the god this fanatical sect worshipped was inferior to the gods of the Philistines.
Goliath knew that. David knew that. Every Philistine knew that. Every Israelite knew that. David made it clear that it was not he, David, who would prevail against Goliath, but the LORD. He said:
They insult our Christian confession, claiming that all religions are equally valid and that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. They insult our Christian morality, accusing us of hate when we teach what the Bible says about love. They insult us for our refusal to join with the religious crowd to make common cause with purveyors of false doctrine. Are they insulting us? Or are they insulting our Lord?
All religions are not equally valid. The Philistines worshipped false gods, even as the Americans do. America teaches a religion of niceness that won’t condemn false gods, false teachings, and false prophets. Practitioners of this religion care nothing for the blood of Jesus shed to forgive sins. Surely, they reason, if they really need forgiveness (and they’re not sure they do), God wouldn’t require the bloody death of his Son to obtain it for them. They teach a generic god of universal love who can be as easily worshipped by advocates of any or none of the world’s religions. They promote the devil’s own spirituality that makes everyone his own god or goddess.
They insult our morality as if we made it up. They call us bigots for claiming it is binding on everyone else. When we teach what God’s Word teaches that sexual intimacy is to be confined to marriage between one man and one woman and that marriage lasts for life, they say we are heartless haters, bigots, and worse.
They insult us for insisting that we have the truth. If we won’t join together in the community ecumenical worship; if we won’t invite to our altar those who commune at altars that teach false doctrine; if we insist that the teaching of Luther’s Small Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, and the rest of our Confessions are the pure and true teaching of God’s word; they will insult us pressure us, judge us, and ostracize us for being different.
Who is behind these insults? Who is attacking the Christian claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven? Who denigrates the sacrifice of Christ, as if it isn’t necessary for the forgiveness of sins or isn’t sufficient to provide it? Who denies sin is sin and then denies that Christ has taken away the sin of the world? Who is behind the spirit of doctrinal indifference that says nobody can really know the truth and we are arrogant know-it-alls for claiming to have it? Who is behind all of this? The same person who stood behind Goliath. The same person who tempted our Lord Jesus in the wilderness. David killed Goliath. Jesus, David’s Son and David’s Lord, drove the devil away. We are fighting the same enemy.
Fight! Fight with God’s word. First, claim the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the name joined to your name when you were baptized. You cannot claim God’s name if you are tossing it around as an expletive. You’re not fighting the fight of the faith when you use the words God, Jesus, or Christ as cuss words. You’re telling the devil you don’t know how to fight. You can’t fight the spiritual fight without bearing Christ’s name. When you do, don’t misuse it.
Second, fight against the devil’s attacks on God’s law. Has God really said? he asks. You know the commandments. They haven’t changed. They’re not going to change. When Christians are willing to alter God’s law to get it to fit in with what’s popular in society, they are telling the devil that they have no wish to annoy him. The devil leaves such people alone. They’re already under his power.
Third, claim the gospel by faith and confess it. Claim Jesus’ victory over the devil as your own. When David killed Goliath and cut off his head, the Philistines were vanquished. When Jesus crushed Satan’s head on the cross, the power of the devil was undone. This is your victory, dear Christian! You are fighting the father of lies with the truth, and not just any truth, but the truth that your sins are forgiven, your Jesus has won your victory over Satan, and Jesus is yours! Knowing Jesus, the devil lies under your feet.
Claim God’s name. Affirm his holy law. Believe the words of his gospel. Then fight. You’re fighting the one David routed by the power of God. You’re fighting the one Jesus destroyed by his holy obedience, suffering, and death. You’re fighting the fight of a Christian. Fight until you die.
Rolf D. Preus