St. Michael and All Angels
Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. It is the day in the church year when we consider these spiritual beings created by God. This is a good and helpful thing, because when treated apart from the guidance of God’s Word, the topic of angels brings out all kinds of goofy stuff.
It is not uncommon for people to talk about those who die “becoming an angel.” Angels are treated as mediators who provide spiritual guidance and help. So, you can find books like Michael: Communicating with the Archangel for Guidance and Protection, and, The Angel Code: Your Interactive Guide to Angelic Communication.
In TV shows and movies, angels take on bizarre roles that have no relation to Scripture. In the 2010 movie “Legion” God has lost faith in mankind and has sent his angels to destroy us. There is however a baby about to be born who will save humanity. So the angel Michael disobeys God as he protects the mother and child from Gabriel who is sent to kill them.
Even within the Christian church we find practices related to angels that have no biblical basis. So in the Roman Catholic church there is a specific prayer directed to St. Michael the Archangel. Last year when news about sexual abuse scandals were coming out, various parts of that church had parishes say this prayer after Mass as part of the response to the spiritual crisis.
In our text this morning we hear a dramatic account from a dramatic source – the Book of Revelation. The first verses of our text begin by saying: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
Now this is great stuff! It is the kind of thing that Hollywood really could get into and produce some amazing visual effects. But here, as always in Scripture, the angels aren’t the main thing. They are important, and today is their day, but they can never be the main thing.
The main thing has just been described in the first part of the chapter. And it is something that reminds us that we are in the unique setting of Revelation where so much is symbolic and meant to make an impression on the reader. John describes a great sign that appeared in heaven – a pregnant woman in the agony of childbirth. Then there appeared another sign in heaven, a red dragon who wants to consume the woman’s child. However, we are told, “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.”
It becomes clear that the woman is the virgin Mary, and that the child is Jesus Christ. In the most compressed form possible we have reference to the saving work of Jesus in his death, resurrection and ascension. It is as the crucified and risen One that that Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of the throne of God.
The war in heaven described in our text is a result of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for your sins. We learn this in our text when John says, “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. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.’”
From the Old Testament books of Job and Zechariah we learn that Satan had been able to appear before God and raise accusations against God’s people. He was able to accuse them of their sins before God. But now that Jesus has offered himself as the sacrifice – as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – this is no longer possible. Satan has no ability to accuse you before God because the blood of the Lamb has paid the price for your every sin. Because of Christ, in God’s eyes you are holy.
This fact is described in our text as a war in heaven. Michael and his angels fight against the dragon – against Satan and his angels, and kick them out. Satan and his angels are cast down to earth. No longer can Satan appear before God and accuse you as a sinner.
It is an awesome scene – this war between the angelic and demonic forces. We confess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.” Angels are part of that creation – spiritual creatures made by God to carry out his will. They are powerful creatures – not cute cherubs whose cheek you want to pinch.
However, you are more important to God than the angels. You were created in the image of God. They weren’t. And the ultimate proof of this is that God sent his Son into the world in the incarnation. The Son of God became man, without ceasing to be God. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, he took on a human nature and was born of the virgin Mary. He did this to redeem humanity. He did this to free us from sin and death. By his resurrection he has redeemed our bodies for eternal life with God in the new creation.
Angels were God’s servants as the Son of God, Jesus Christ, carried out this work for you. They announced that the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, would be born. They announced the incarnation to Mary and Joseph. They ministered to Jesus after he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. And they were there at the empty tomb on Easter morning to announce the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Their work continued in the Book of Acts as they served to assist the church in sharing the Gospel. We believe that God continues to use angels as his instruments to help and protect his Church.
God’s angels have been his servants, playing their specific role as the Father has carried out the work of salvation in Christ. But the work of the angels can only be understood in relation to Christ. They are the “support team” as it were. They are never the focus. They should never be the focus. It is only Jesus Christ and his saving work that has caused Satan no longer to be able to accuse you. Any ideas about praying to angels or communicating with angels misses the point altogether. It is because of Jesus that we now have access to God. It is because of Jesus that we can pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.
And in fact, we learn in our text that the angels are told to rejoice about you. In our text the voice announces that Satan, the accuser has been thrown down. He says that believers “have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” And then the command is given: “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them!” The angels are told to rejoice about your salvation. You matter to God more than the angels. In the incarnation he sent his Son of suffer and die for you. He has redeemed your humanity so that in the resurrection on the Last Day you can again live as you were meant to be. Angels are God’s servants whose work is to help and serve in carrying out God’s will to make this happen.
It is a blessing to know that angels are powerful spiritual creatures used by God to carry out his will for us. But there is also another side to this, because it means that Satan and his angels are also powerful spiritual creatures. However, they are completely opposed to us.
Our text ends with the statement, “‘But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’” And at the end of this chapter we learn that the dragon went to make war “on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
Our text alerts us to the reality of the spiritual threat we face. With good reason the apostle Peter warned, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” It would be much easier if Satan showed up looking like a dragon as in the book of Revelation. But as our text says, he is the deceiver of the whole world. He is the one whom St. Paul tells us “disguises himself as an angel of light.”
Satan can no longer appear before God and accuse you of your sins because of Christ. So now he seeks to keep people away from Christ. He seeks to draw believers away from Christ. He uses every distraction available - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- to draw people towards the world and away from Christ. He uses every intellectual and cultural trend that minimizes and rejects Christ.
Because this is so, we must cling to Jesus Christ in faith all the more firmly. We must pay attention to the one thing that Satan wants us to ignore: Christ’s Means of Grace. For it is through these gifts of Christ that his gives us forgiveness and strengthens faith. We listen to his Word. We turn in faith to our baptism. We confess our sins and receive absolution. And in particular, we come to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. Here the ascended Lord is bodily present with us. Here he provides the assurance of our resurrection for he has promised, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.” And here we join together with St. Michael, and the angels and all the company of heaven as we sing praise to the incarnate Lord who died and rose again.