Mark’s gospel tells us that we are to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength.” (Mark 12:30). This is because we are emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical beings, and we are called to love God with every aspect of our being. Yet we live in an increasingly materialistic world in which it is all too easy to overlook or even lose sight of the spiritual aspect of our being. We may be aware of struggles and challenges that manifest themselves physically – for example war, oppression, abuse, family or societal breakdown – but the root cause is often spiritual. There can also be spiritual strongholds in a family, a community, an organisation or even an institution.
As believers, we are called to be aware of this spiritual struggle and to “be strong in the LORD and in his mighty power.” To be strong at anything, we need to work at it; and we can become strong in the Lord through Bible study, prayer, fellowship and obedience to His will in our lives – all of these things help us to remain or abide in Christ. We are told “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” But in this struggle, we are not defenceless. We are instructed to “put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, we may be able to stand our ground, and after we have done everything, to stand.” We are called to put on “the full armour of God, so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes.” Many writers and commentators have said that the greatest trick that the devil ever pulled was to convince people that he doesn’t exist. When the enemy, the father of lies (John 8:44), attacks with his lies, half-truths, and distortions, we believers can stand on the truth we believe. The devil is a liar and delights in causing dissent, disunity, and destruction. The devil seeks to undermine and destroy anything that is of God. But “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8), and if we “Resist the devil, he will flee from us” (James 4:7b). Standing our ground and standing firm requires intentionality and purpose on our part. We need:
- the belt of truth buckled around our waist
- the breastplate of righteousness in place
- our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
- the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one
- the helmet of salvation
- the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
- We are to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
If you have ever looked at this passage before you may notice that there is one part of our body that at first appears to be unprotected…our back. I believe that is because we are not alone, and Jesus Himself is watching our back. It is by doing this through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit that we are more than conquerors and those spiritual strongholds are torn down. We then come to our Gospel reading, where the importance of remaining or abiding in Christ is emphasised, and also how challenging that can be. But it is only by remaining in Christ that we have a secure foundation and can be strong and take the stand we are called to take. Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” This challenged some of Jesus’ followers – they were only able to understand this from a physical, worldly perspective. In fact, it was so challenging that some grumbled and some turned back and no longer followed him. Yet Jesus was inviting them to open their eyes to understand the spiritual perspective, made clear by him saying “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” Jesus is the source of love and life, the living bread or bread of life. We are fed spiritually through Word and Sacrament. We might pray that as we read God’s written word it might reveal to us his Living Word; we might pray that as we receive Communion it is more than a remembering but something in and through which we are renewed and transformed. On experiencing the disappointment of grumbling and some falling away, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter’s response says it all when he answered, “LORD, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” Do we really desire life and life eternal? Many people today turn away from Christ when they discern his real message; they are not prepared to take up their cross and follow Him instead wanting faith on their terms, if at all. Others pretend to follow, going to church for status, approval of family and friends, or business contacts. When it comes to following Jesus, the choice is binary – we either accept him or reject him. May you have the wisdom to discern and understand the life that the Spirit gives, may you put on the full armour of God and be equipped to choose Christ and take your stand for him. Amen