Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our sermon this day, the observance of the Feast of
St. Michael and All Angels, is based on our second lesson for this morning,
from the Revelation to St. John, chapter 12.
Over the last decade or so, angels seem to have become
quite popular in our culture. In some cases, people’s fascination with these
beings has blossomed into almost sort of a full-fledged frenzy. Books have
been written about them. TV shows and movies have depicted angels that
intervene in the lives of human beings in ways that are readily seen, heard,
and understood. Artwork from small figurines to large stone carvings have
become collectors items.
When this phenomenon reached a crescendo a few years
back, I half-expected to find luminescent paintings of angels on black velvet
for sale at flea markets and at rural gas stations.
In many cases, it’s pretty clear that this human
fascination with angels often has very little to do with the truths of the
Christian faith. At times, in fact, it’s readily apparent that many people
want to create their own version of what angels are, and what they do, rather
than listening to the evidence given in God’s Word.
As we observe this Feast of St. Michael and All Angels
today, it’s appropriate for us to consider for a time some of the things we do
and do not know about angels. To do this we go, as we always must, to the
wisdom of that Word.
Angels appear in both the Old Testament and the New.
They are usually called malak in Hebrew, and angelos
in Greek. In both cases, the terms mean “messenger,” as these beings
frequently carried important news from God to human beings.
We find the root of the same word, for example, in
what the angel brought to the shepherds outside Bethlehem that glorious night—euangelizo—good
tidings, good news, the Gospel. It’s from this term we get our word
“evangelism”—the task of spreading the Good News about Jesus to the world we
encounter in our lives.
As part of creation, angels did not exist eternally as
have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We don’t know exactly when, but at some
point in the process of creation, God made angels. While they may take on a
bodily appearance according to God’s wishes to carry out His work, they are
spirit beings, without flesh and blood as humans have. We only see, hear, or
feel their presence if that, too, is in accordance with God’s direction.
Though Jesus, in Matthew 18:10, tells us that the
angels have the privilege of seeing God’s undiminished glory in heaven, and
they have been given great knowledge and power to carry out God’s work, they
are not all-seeing, all-knowing, or all-powerful, as God is.
There are uncountable angels, and they have not only
been given charge to guard and keep you in all your ways, they have often been
sent to perform other specific services on behalf of their Creator and ours,
sometimes in forms that people can see, hear, or feel. They have
appeared to Abraham, Lot, Daniel, Zechariah, the Virgin Mary, and those at
Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning. They spoke to prophets, closed the mouths of
lions, forced donkeys off their paths, appeared in dreams, guarded a garden,
and killed off enemies of God’s people.
All that sounds very good, and it is—for God created
the angels to serve Him in righteousness and holiness, as He did all
creation—that which He declared was “very good” on the sixth day. We know,
however, that mankind was unable to use the freedom of will with which our
heavenly Father created our ancestors to remain faithful and sinless. So,
also, many of His angels fell away.
There was rebellion in heaven, just as there was
rebellion on earth. Even though they had been in God’s presence and knew His
holiness, glory, and power, a great many of them rejected their privileges.
For this defiance, they were condemned to remain in their evil state for all
eternity, with no hope of restoration. They can do no good, but instead seek
to lead the world astray from God, and to thwart to the extent possible what
God would have men do.
These evil angels—the prince of darkness, Satan
himself, and all his followers—are the greatest outward danger you and I face
each day as we live our lives. Not only do they lay the snares of temptation
before us time and time again, they constantly work their work of lies and
deceptions. For every good understanding we gain from God’s Word—for every
noble thought and word and deed which the Holy Spirit guides you and I to
do—there creeps Satan, the crafty serpent, whispering at us once again, “Did
God really say?”
If we’re strong at that moment, sustained by our
knowledge and trust in His Word—that is, if we’re faithful at that
moment—then our answer is, “Yes, God really did say, and I believe it, and I
trust it, and I will follow it.”
But you know good and well that you have plenty of
other moments, too, don’t you? You have them, I have them, and those sitting
beside you, in front of you, and behind you in these pews have them. They’re
the moments when we don’t remain aligned with the angel who said, “He is not
here, He is arisen.” The moments we forget the angel’s words of “Unto
you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior—Christ the Lord.” We
ignore and negate the “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men on
earth,” of those angels we have heard on high.
Instead, we listen to those angels we have heard down
low—the angels and their leader who have been cast from heaven and now prowl
the earth, looking for someone to devour. And you and I are all too willing to
hop right into the gaping mouth of hell’s lion, eager to be a tasty, tender
snack that he can chew on until we’re pulverized and just about to be
We know from God’s Word that no sin is truly greater
or worse than another in terms of the alienation and separation it creates between
ourselves and our holy, righteous God—that all sins place us under the
condemnation of death. Yet we also know from Scripture that there is a
particularly great and even eternal danger in the unforgivable sin of
blaspheming the Holy Spirit—that is, to persistently deny the work of faith in
our lives to forgive sins and overcome that condemnation.
It’s that sin which Satan and his demons work hardest
to make reality in our lives. From the moment of the first sin until Christ
shed His blood on the cross, Satan was able to stand before God and accuse
mankind. He could list every sin, and took particular delight in listing all
those sins committed by God’s elect people—by you and me.
Up to a point, God tolerated those accusations,
knowing what His plan for the world was. The prince of darkness was even able
to stand before God and get permission to tempt Job, a man God knew to be
steadfast in his faith. He accused Job of only loving and trusting God because
of what God had done for Job in the temporal life—making him rich, giving him a
good family, and so on. As just an angel, and a fallen one at that, Satan
couldn’t see into Job’s heart like God can. He didn’t know that there was true
faith there. So, for a time, the devil tormented Job. He also threw out one
accusation after another, about one person after another, in front of God.
But when Jesus atoned for the sins of the entire world
on that bloody cross, God didn’t need to hear Satan’s accusations against
humanity any longer. On account of Christ, God’s chosen people are declared
“not guilty.” When Christ rose for our justification, we became righteous in
His sight. Satan’s presence in heaven, accusing all humanity time and time
again, lost all its purpose. Every accusation became a lie.
Jesus’ blood had made us holy in God’s judgment. Pure
and holy on account of Christ, by grace through faith, we became immune to the
devil’s accusations before God.
It was time for Satan to go. As He so often does, God
in His wisdom chose to exercise His power and His purpose through means—through
servants. Michael and the loyal angels were called upon to cast Satan and the
rebellious angels from heaven. They did not want to go quietly, so an epic
battle was fought. What a monumental struggle that must’ve been—all the forces
of pure evil against a great many who loved and trusted God.
Eventually, the host of heaven prevailed. Satan was
cast down from heaven to earth, where he continues his futile but persistent
struggle against God and against God’s people—against you and me, each and
every moment of each and every day. We face a daunting, relentless attack from
that flesh-hungry lion—one which we cannot hope to win alone.
Thankfully, God did not leave us to soldier on alone
against these forces of evil. He gives you His Holy Spirit, as Christ
promised, which “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies” His Church
on earth. He blesses you with the gifts His means of grace provide—His Holy
Word and Sacraments to give you both the reality and the assurance of your
forgiveness and salvation. What’s more, He continues to provide you angels to
protect and preserve you. They are here, right now and always, protecting and
defending us believers in Christ from the devil’s wrath.
Martin Luther once wrote, “We Christians should
have the sure knowledge that the princes of heaven are with us, not only one or
two, but a large number of them…and if we were without this custody, and God
did not in this way check the fury of Satan, we could not live for one moment.”
Luther wrote elsewhere, “That the entire world is
not a mass of flames, that all towns and villages are not lying in a heap of
ruins, we owe to the working and doing of the good angels.”
Therefore, we may and should rejoice and take great
comfort that the angels’ service is an expression of God’s love and care for
us. We don’t worship them or pray to them, because they are merely created
beings, as we are. Satan would love your worship, and as you know, Satan works
very hard to gain it or to direct it to anything but the one, true God. Crafty
and sly, he works on believers and unbelievers alike. Disbelief is his work;
doubt is his work; even denial of his own very existence is his work, much to
his great satisfaction.
Satan and his ways can often appear quite pleasing
and attractive to us, coming as he does disguised as an angel of light. In
fact, that is one of the distinctions between Satan and his angels, and God’s
When God sends His angels, Luther wrote, “The good
angels bring terror; that is, they come with a certain majesty so that the
people to whom they come are frightened. Thus Mary is filled with fear upon
seeing an angel. But an evil angel creeps along smoothly and gently, like a
serpent, until he has lured men into security and sin.”
We all, by nature, resemble Satan in some ways.
Humanity was created good, yet turned away from our relationship with God. We
still often do. Satan is the father of lies, Jesus said, and our tongues are
deceitful, too. Satan was a murderer from the beginning, and we who in our
hearts hate our brother or sister are murderers as well. Corrupted in nature,
thought, word, and deed, we frequently act as children of the devil, not
children of the heavenly Father.
Yet through God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we are
immaculately pure, like the holy angels in heaven. Christ’s suffering, death,
and resurrection have given us the destiny of holy angels: To spend eternity
in glory with them and with God.
Until then, we join with the angels and continue the
fight against Satan. What does our text say? The accuser of our brothers—and
of us—is overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony.
By Word and Sacrament, and not by our own wisdom and strength, do we overcome
Satan. The Word is ours each time we gather here to worship and to hear it.
The blood is ours frequently, too—each time we partake of it “with angels
and archangels and all the company of heaven.” After all, what is Christ’s
supper but the banquet of victory over Satan?
In this world, at times it may seem like Satan and his
forces of evil are winning: In the death of a believer, especially one who
dies on account of faith. In the destruction of natural disasters or the
carnage and death of war. In false prophets, false gospels, and false
Christs. We see and hear of these, and the devil whispers in our ear, “Is
there really victory in this, Christian? Did God really say…?”
To these doubts and accusations, we have this answer:
“Now has come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and
the authority of His Christ.” The victory is—and will always remain—God’s
in Christ Jesus, no matter what we see, hear, feel, or go through.
Boast in Satan’s face: “You are beaten! Even now
your head has been crushed, and your place of torment awaits you! We have been
given authority to trample your kingdom!”
Even as Satan passes into torment, we shall pass into
glory with the angels, for our names are written in heaven where nothing will
harm us. There, we will shine like the brightness of the stars forever and
ever. Yes, you will shine like glorious, holy angels, clothed in immortality,
and even with the glory of Christ, the King of Angels Himself. To Him alone be
the glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.