As Lutherans, we preach and teach the biblical text. Whether we choose one of the four readings from the lectionary or preach through a sermon series, the text drives our preaching. As we prepare Bible studies, even if they are topical, the text of the Scriptures must always lead and inform our teaching.
As we prepare to preach and teach, we are careful to examine the Law and Gospel of the text. We ask questions of the text, such as: What is this text calling us to do? What is the text saying we have failed to do? What does this text say that God has done for us?
What is the enemy?
One of the questions I like to ask to get at the Law/Gospel dynamic is: What is the enemy in the text?
In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther identifies three of our most common enemies in his explanation of the second article of the Creed and in the section on Baptism. Those three enemies are sin, death, and the devil.
Identifying the enemy in the text helps me focus the Gospel proclamation so that it will speak as directly as possible to that particular enemy. When the enemy is sin, the Gospel will be related to forgiveness of sins and will focus on Jesus’ death for us. I often use this logical progression: If the enemy is sin, what good news can speak to sin? The removal of that sin. How does that happen? Jesus’ death on the cross.
When the enemy in the text is death, the Gospel will be related to resurrection. Again, follow the logical progression. If the enemy is death, what good news can speak to death? The undoing of death. How does that happen? Jesus’ resurrection and His promised return when we will all rise from the dead.
When the enemy is Satan, what do people need? What would be good news? Luther gives us the answer in his most famous hymn: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
The end of stanza one says,
“The old evil foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.”
This is our enemy: the devil. He is coming to attack us. What do we need? We need somebody to fight for us. We need a champion. Stanza two begins with these words:
“With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus
Christ it is, Of Sabaoth Lord,”
When we are overrun by the presence of Satan, we need the presence of Jesus. The Gospel answer to the enemy of Satan is the presence of Jesus.
Preaching against sin, death and Satan
Asking “What is the enemy in the text?” can hopefully help preachers avoid three mistakes. One, focusing on an enemy that is not the focus of the text. Two, preaching Gospel that is not in the text. Three, preaching Gospel to an enemy which does not correspond.
If your text is 1 Kings 18:16-40 (Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel), the enemy is Satan. Satan is present in these false prophets. Elijah needs God’s presence to defeat Satan’s presence. God shows up for Elijah in the form of miraculous fire from the heavens, and Satan is routed.
If your text is Psalm 51, the enemy is sin. David is confessing his sin, and we confess right alongside him, begging God for mercy and forgiveness. That forgiveness of course ultimately comes in Jesus’ death for us.
If your text is John 11, the enemy is death. Lazarus is dead. What good news can be spoken as we grieve and face the enemy of death? Resurrection and life.
Of course, these three enemies always work together. Satan tempts us to sin, and the wages of sin is death. Likewise, we must also note that the Gospel to these enemies also works together. Jesus’ presence, Jesus’ death, and Jesus’ resurrection are not at odds with each other.
Sometimes two or even all three enemies are present in a biblical text. Although it is possible to preach a sermon that covers each of them, it is not easy and it is often confusing. For the sake of clarity, I find it is best to stick with one enemy and one Gospel answer.
No matter what the enemy is, we know that Jesus has delivered us from all enemies. We are delivered from sin by Christ’s death on the cross. We are delivered from death by Christ’s resurrection and return. We are delivered from Satan by Christ’s presence with us both now and into eternity.
To learn more about how the enemy is portrayed and dive in to each book of the Bible, click the button below.