Wow!

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
St. Michael and All Angels-Pentecost 19C, September 29th, 2013

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All three of our readings give us a glimpse into the spiritual realm of Heaven and the activity of God’s spiritual messengers, the angels.  Even though this Sunday is known by its festival name, Saint Michael and all Angels, this is not just a day to teach about angels, but to proclaim the message that the church has always been mandated to proclaim: Jesus Christ and the complete forgiveness of sins!

This morning we look at the role angels have always played in proclaiming this message, fulfilling this mission of forgiveness as mandated by God Himself.

Our readings this morning from the Book of Daniel and John’s Revelation from God, are perhaps the greatest accounts of angelic visions.  Through out these accounts, a certain reality seems to be that angels are real; even though we can’t see them, there are angels all around us, and not only can they see us, they are here to continually help us know Jesus.

An old pastor worked late into the night on a sermon for his small congregation. His unsympathetic wife kept asking him when he was coming to bed.  She reminded him that he was old and needed his sleep.  “Besides” she commented, “it just doesn’t make sense that you are spending so much of your energy on a message that only a few will hear and appreciate. To this the pastor replied: “You forget my dear, how large my angelic audience will be!  So you see, if angels are looking, nothing on earth done for Christ is trivial.”

Yes, angels are all around us, they are here to assist us as God directs, but they can never truly understand us as our Savior can.

There is a picture in Milan, which depicts a little angel trying to feel one of the points of the Crown of Thorns that rests on Jesus bloody brow. A look of wonder is on his angelic face; he has been told that it means agony, but he cannot feel it. It is all to him incomprehensible. There is a deep spiritual suggestion here. The angel cannot understand because he belongs to a different world; he was never born into that condition in which sin and suffering and sacrifice become terms of awful importance.  But God can; God has always been with His people, even in the middle of their suffering, and because God is with us through His Son who came to suffer and die in our place, there is always hope.  This was the divine message, the point of the vision that Daniel was given from the angel in our Old Testament lesson. [Daniel 10:1014, 12:13]

God’s people, those faithful saints who were the children of Abraham, were defeated in war by foreign nations, taken captive, and exiled into foreign places, just as the prophets of God had promised.  But through those same prophets, God also promised that their captivity would end and they would return to their own land.  And so it began to happen.  All was going as planned, when something went wrong.  All progress towards repatriation ceased and it appeared that the promise of God would not be fulfilled.  What was happening?

Daniel, a mighty man of faith fell to his knees and entered into the role of intercessor; he became a prayer warrior for his people.  Would God hear?  Would He listen and answer?  YES!  And that was the very message that the angel was sent to deliver to Daniel.  A message of hope and peace: “And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the Words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this Word to me, I stood up trembling. [Vs. 10, 11]

Dear friends, this is always how God’s Kingdom breaks into the hearts of sinful men and women… it comes with fear and trembling.  A specific Word of God must first break our hard, sinful hearts so that we can hear God’s entire message.  This is the part of God’s Word we know as His law.  We know that we must hear this message first, so that our hearts will also receive His message of comfort, hope, and peace.  And this is exactly what is given next: “Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” [Vs. 12-14]

So here we are given a glimpse into a real battle that takes place both in heaven and on earth; it is spiritual and unseen by the eye, but that does not make it any less real.  Who is this Michael and who is it that He is fighting?  Michael is the only Ark-Angel named in Holy Scripture.  He is an angel that is always sent by and fighting for the very Son of God.  The forces that He fights are the fallen angels, or demons that are led by the prince of this world, Satan himself.  Because these demons were interfering with the will of God by interfering with the government of Persia, God sent Michael who rebuked and defeated the angels of darkness with the very Word of God.  God’s people of faith would soon taste freedom and breathe the air of their homeland once again just as God had promised.

But that isn’t the end of the message is it?  No, the holy messenger speaks of a time of trouble that is coming that will bring much tribulation to not just God’s children of faith, but indeed to the entire earth.  He says that this time of tribulation will end in a final deliverance of God’s little ones of faith, culminated with a great resurrection of the dead, where we will all be given new and eternal lives of joy and peace!  So when will all of this happen?  Well it has already begun.  The tribulation is upon us.  And in order to understand this, we must turn to our second reading from the book of John’s Revelation and receive the same wisdom that St. John received from God’s angelic messenger.

Once again, God’s spiritual messengers speaks of spiritual things that impact our world of flesh.  He says, “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.”  The war was real, but it was not the kind of war that we might imagine.  There were no heavenly weapons of mass destruction; no this was a war of words.  Satan, that great accuser, stood before the throne of God accusing God’s children day and night of sin and unbelief.  He insisted that they be punished as he and his legions of fallen and rebellious angels were.  But God spoke of sending a Savior to His children of faith.  One who would live a sinless life of perfection for them, and in their place suffer and die for their sins, so that the great Accuser and his legions of filthy devils would be powerless against them.

In the six verses of scripture prior to our reading from John’s Revelation this morning (Revelation 12:7-12) we see this heavenly battle in all of it’s glory break out before our very hearts.  Listen: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 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”.  (Revelation 12:1-6)

That woman was none other than the Virgin Mary,  and the child she bore, was Jesus, the very Son of God, who took on human flesh by the will of the Father and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The great dragon who along with a third of the stars of heaven that was cast down to earth was Satan himself and his legions of dark devils.  Try as he might to prevent the ministry of the Son of God, in the person of Jesus Christ to begin and finish the will of Heaven, he has been left impotent; powerless against our great and mighty God.  Jesus did come and reconcile us with the Father, His Father who now our Father, through the cross, His cross, which is now our cross that brings forgiveness of sins and a life of eternal peace with God and us sinners.  Jesus did rise from the dead to declare victory over death and the grave; He rose to assure us of an eternal life that waits for us, and He ascended into heaven to assure us that He has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us.  But while the war is over, the battle continues.  The devil is still among us on earth.

While Michael was once again successful in defending God’s kingdom of heaven as directed by the very Son of God, his work is not over.  You see, heaven’s work is not complete until Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead.  And when that day comes, there will be a new heaven and a new earth that shall become one.  So until that day arrives St. Michael and all of the angels along with the entire church, that means you and me, are still speaking the Word of God; we are still telling the story of redemption; how our Savior Jesus has defeated and silenced the mouth of our accuser and his evil minions.  With the Word of God, the Kingdom of heaven is advanced and the kingdom of evil is defeated.

What Word is that?  It is the name Jesus and the word forgiveness; forgiveness of sins that Jesus brought for us sinful men and for our salvation.  It is the proclamation of victory over sin, death, and the devil, and the release of the captives, the prisoners of war.  But this work is not easy.  It isn’t easy releasing someone who doesn’t even know that they are being held as a prisoner of war.  What must we do to release them?  Again the mightiest weapon that we have is still the same weapon used by the angels… it is God’s Word, both the law and the gospel.

The law comes when we speak a word that shows the nature and work of the devil.  Through the word, we show those held captive who the devil is, that his very name means slanderer or false accuser.  We demonstrate to them that his proper name Satan means “one who lies in ambush.”  When we put the names together we can show those held in captive that the entire mission of the devils, is to deceive the entire earth into thinking that sinful desires are natural and that we are forever bound to our sinful nature.  If we can get them to see the mission of the devil, then we must show them how the devil has very cleverly used them to further this mission.  Again, remember that we are still using the Word of God alone, and for this action that will bring freedom to the prisoner, we will use the law of God in love.  Let me give you an example of what I mean.  In God’s Word, the 8th commandment states that we should not bear false witness against our neighbor.  That is, we should not like Satan and his devils falsely accuse our neighbors before God.  Not only should we not falsely accuse them, but we should also speak well of our neighbor and do all within our power to improve their reputation.  And if we do find that our neighbor has sinned, we should speak to them privately seeking to restore their good reputation before God and man.  In other words, we should approach them in love and encourage them to repent, that is turn to God’s forgiving love, which is theirs just as much as it is ours through Jesus Christ!

How many times have we too by intending to do good, fallen into the trap of the devil by approaching our neighbor from a position of superiority, not seeking to restore them but to teach them a lesson.  So now you see, even the rescue party constantly needs to be rescued.  Another way to say this is that if we do not stick close to Jesus and His Word, if we do not simply receive all that He has to give to us as a gift we too are subject to fall for the deception of the devils.  But if we will like the child in our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:1-11) simply run to Jesus when He calls, allow Him to scoop us up in His arms of love and protection, we rest safe, forgiven, and renewed to continue our search and rescue mission to seek and safe the lost.

How do we stay in this child like condition of simple faith?  By continually running to Jesus in the place that He calls us.  We come to this house of worship where we continually receive His Divine service and hear the message of redemption and forgiveness.

Dear friends, the message you received this morning is not one that ignores the pain and suffering of this world.  We are not to wear rose colored glasses and pretend that all is well here on earth.  All certainly is not well.  The raging maniacal Satan is still persecuting the church.  There is still much suffering and pain in this world, so much so that the very heavens cry out “woe”.  And yet we are still here; God’s children saved by grace through faith in the blood of the Lamb of God, the very Son of God Jesus Christ!  We are the church militant!  We live in this world of sin by faith, as we trust that the kingdom of God has come, and Christ’s rule and authority has been established.  The devils have been defeated, and we prove that each time as we enter into battle by trusting and resting in the promise of God’s Word that proclaims the forgiveness of sins.  All of the devil’s lies and accusations have been silenced through the victory of Christ, which becomes our victory by faith in the blood of the Lamb shed at Calvary.

When the devil accuses us of sin and attempts to recapture us in guilt, we who have been freed and sent to free others will simply reply to that serpent.  “I admit that I am a sinner, but there is one who is greater than my sin and He is Jesus Christ, and where He is I shall one day join Him.  It is Jesus who began the work of salvation in my baptism, and it is Jesus who will complete it on that great day when you and all devils will be silenced forever.”  So you see dear friends, the same Word of God that empowers your testimony to your neighbor is the very same Word that silences your enemies.  May God grant us faith and the strength to continue trusting in His work and the message of St. Michael and all angels… AMEN!

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