September 29, 2019 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Revelation 12:7–12:12, Luke 10:17–10:20, Daniel 10:10–10:14, Daniel 12:1–12:3,
St. Michael and All Angels[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Revelation 12:7-12a (Luke 10:17-20)
Angels! Demons! Dragons! Divine battles! Lightning! This weekend’s Scripture texts have ‘em all! Those elements might not appear out of place in Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, or any number of other works of fantasy and adventure. They’re pretty spectacular, seemingly far removed from our regular, everyday lives. For most folks, angels and demons and dragons are characters of myth and legend, belonging to realm fairy tales or Hollywood blockbusters, not the stuff of real life. But make no mistake: while they are glimpses of a grand an epic narrative, today’s readings from God’s Word are no fairy tale. Today, we get to hear of the astounding story of how God delivers your victory over terrifying real, present forces of evil that are seeking to take you out of the picture.
You’ve got a target on your back. The devil and all the enemies of God have their sights set on you and all Christians, people who have been liberated from slavery to sin, claimed as children of God in Holy Baptism. Unseen forces are going to do their level best to try and steal you away, to recapture you – or at the least, to make you feel their wrath. There’s a battle going on for your immortal soul, and for the souls of every one of your friends, family members, and neighbors. And while that might sound like flowery language, this is about as simply as I can put it: Our world is a battlefield.
Here’s the thing about our enemy: his attacks might go unseen, but it seems like few are unheard. The devil has an arsenal of lies and accusations to throw against God’s people. The early Church had to endure all kinds of slander and falsehoods that were engineered to make Christians look bad in the eyes of their neighbors. While the substance of the lies and accusations may have changed, the devil still throws them against the Church of our time.
Today’s Scripture texts tell us more about what God does to defend His Church against the assaults of the enemy. In our reading from the book of Revelation, John records his vision of heavenly warfare. There’s a lot going on here, so it might help to have some context. In the first part of this chapter, immediately before the text we heard today, John saw a great sign of a woman, clothed with divine brightness, about to give birth. A great dragon then appeared to devour the child as soon as he was born. But when the child had been born, God gathered him up to his throne in heaven, and the woman was given a place of refuge in the wilderness. The child is Christ Jesus, born of Israel, God’s chosen people. And at his ascension, Jesus returned to be enthroned in heaven – kicking our accuser out, once and for all.
C.F.W. Walther, the first president of our church body, eloquently described the nature of Jesus’ victory over our accuser:
By sin, all people sold themselves to Satan, becoming servants and subjects of his kingdom. Therefore, when Christ wanted to redeem men and save them, he came, as the true owner of all people’s souls, to conquer Satan, to destroy his kingdom, to remove his plunder from him, to free us from his dark power, and to lead us through the kingdom of grace into the kingdom of eternal glory.
Christ did this mainly by his bloody death of atonement on the cross for all the sins of the world. By this, the head of the snake was totally crushed and all people were completely redeemed.
Jesus’ victory is supreme. “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.’” (Rev. 12:10) This is the new reality, the accuser, the devil – “Satan” simply means “accuser” – has been unseated by the returning Victor. His power in the heavenly realm has been broken by power of Jesus’ blood, shed for us. He won the war over sin, death, and the devil
The devil no longer has any say in the heavenly realm. So, expelled from his place before God, where he was hurling accusations against humanity, the devil directs his wrath towards God’s people on earth. Along with his fellow fallen angels, what we know as demons, he now seeks to do whatever damage he can in the time he has left.
Today, we remember and celebrate the truth that God does not leave us alone in our battle against the enemy.
On the church calendar, September 29 commemorates Saint Michael and All Angels. Based on what we know of them from the Bible, angels are divine creatures who generally serve as messengers – the Greek word from whence we get our word “angel” means “messenger” – and throughout the Scriptures, they come bearing God’s active word in our world. They’re not described like any angels you’d see at a Hallmark store; indeed, as messengers of God’s authority, they’re usually kind of intimidating. That’s a good thing, since God sets his angels as guardians of His people. They’re not push-overs. And today we hear of an archangel, a chief angel and commander of the armies of God, Saint Michael. (To make things less confusing here, remember that “saint” simply means “holy one.”) In today’s reading from Daniel 10, we learn that Michael, whose name means “Who is like God?” is charged with the special role as guardian of God’s people, Israel.
Michael’s role carries over into the new Israel, Christ’s Church. The Church will be cared for and protected by God so that she will not be destroyed, no matter what the devil and his fallen angels might do to us. The Lord has charged set his angels to help and defend us as we journey through life. They can and do still attack us here on earth, even taking the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But they cannot take away the victory that Jesus has won for us.
Heaven and earth are connected – they’re not two separate realities. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus remarked that he “was seeing Satan fall like lightning from heaven” as his disciples were casting out demons in the Lord’s name. (Luke 10:18) Heaven touches earth here in the Church. Here, we share the eternal peace that comes through Jesus’ victory for us, peace which shines into our world where we know darkness and hurt and chaos. Here, we worship with angels and archangels, along with all the company of heaven, including the martyrs and the rest of the faithfully departed. And here, when we come to the Lord’s table, we receive the victorious Lamb’s body and blood, broken and shed for us. It’s his victory that saves us.
The victory is Christ’s. Saint Michael and all angels depend on him, just as the seventy-two disciples did, just as we do. And in Jesus, we have the greater blessing, greater even than his divine protection against the unseen forces that continue to wage war against the Church on earth. We have eternal salvation that they cannot touch. In Baptism, you have been taken into the kingdom of God. More powerful than any target on you is the cross of Christ, sealed on your head and on your heart. Your name is written in heaven. You have life which cannot be snuffed out.
With Saint Michael and all angels, look to Christ for your hope. Trust that the God of creation and the victorious, resurrected, and reigning King will look after you. Take courage! That’s what this day is all about. It’s not the angels, demons, dragons, divine battles, or lightning, that make this a day worth remembering. It’s Jesus, and his victory for you.
[i] Passage for memory:
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. – Psalm 91:11