Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
29. September 2010
St. Michael and All Angels
Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Revelation 12:7-12; Matthew 18:1-11
“Let Your Holy Angel Watch Over Me”
Fellow saints of God,
Angels are the source of superstition and all sorts of silliness. Many of you will remember the popular TV programs “Touched by an Angel” and “Highway to Heaven.” Both programs featured absurd speculation about angels, offering no real comfort. The cartoons that feature the demon and angel sitting on each shoulder is closer to the truth, acknowledging the spiritual battle waged each day for our soul. Those cute porcelain angels bear no resemblance to the angels of the Scriptures. The mythology is so thick you can cut it. On this special annual festival of St. Michael and All Angels, let us plow our way through this mess to instead make the good confession of God’s holy angels and the gift of comfort they bring to us.
First, it is worth noting that St. Michael and All Angels is a holiday celebrated by Christians at least since the eighth century. The Lutheran reformers certainly recognized that unhelpful mythology surrounding the cult of the angels, yet understood and confessed the great comfort God’s holy angels can give. Thus, they did not remove the festival but rather upheld it and returned its focus to the angels of God’s Holy Word. Pxlus, the festival of St. Michael marks the transition from the Midsummer to the end of the church year. The time from today until Christmas is historically called Michaelmas. Sounds similar? There are two other “masses,” the Annunciation of Mary on March 25, called Ladymas by the English. And the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24, also called Midsummer. Thus, the church year can be divided into four quarter “masses” or feasts of the Lord’s Supper celebrated on the four holidays.
There is also the coincidence of the events of these four “masses.” Today, we celebrate St. Michael’s defeat of the Serpent that will occur at the end of time. Michael is, of course, an angel. Not a mere angel but according to Jude, an archangel (Jude 9). He is likely the “captain of the host of the Lord” (Joshua 5:13-15), a military leader for the Lord’s heavenly host, His Sabaoth. Similarly, on Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation of our God in the flesh, in the womb of Mary. Here again, the holiday recalls the heavenly messengers, the angels bringing the good news to the Shepherds watching in the fields. On the feast of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel announces to the virgin Mary her conception by the Holy Spirit. At the feast of the Nativity of St. John, we hear that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce the conception of his son and that his name would be John. Thus, the church has marked her calendar by four holidays that all have the appearance of angels. Angels have a significant role in the church’s life, the life of the saints of old, and especially serve to preserve the church through the coming of the Christ on through to the final days.
Yet, you’ll notice they don’t take special honor or distinction. Their life is always one of service. They bore witness to the Word of God. Mary and John always trump Gabriel. Christ always takes focus off the whole angel host singing to Him. And today, St. Michael and all angels take a back seat to Christ and His bride the church, whom they protect. They are nothing more than messengers of God, preserving the Word among us and serving the saints by protecting us from our foes of Satan and his demons.
Satan and his demons are those who refused to serve the Lord and were cast down to the earth from the heavenly realm. St. John the Revelator bears witness to this heavenly battle, where the Archangel Michael fought the ancient serpent, the dragon, casting him and his corrupted angels to the earth. He and all his legion of demons accuse us night and day of our sin before God.
Jesus tells us Satan is like a lion prowling about seeking someone to devour. Jesus acknowledges the presence of the demonic spirits when he heals the daughter of the Syrophonecian woman (Mark 7:25-27). St. Mark bears witness to the demonic host when he records Jesus’ healing of the demoniac in the tombs. That man was possessed not by one or two demons. He says: “My name is Legion, for we are many” (Mark 5:9). Jesus casts the demons into the unclean pigs, who destroy them in the lake. St. Luke records that these are indeed fallen angels who know Jesus from before time. “And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God’” (Luke 4:33-34).
The Pharisees attest to the presence of the demons and the prince of demons (Matthew 9:32ff). Yet, Jesus cannot be that prince of demons. He says: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:17-20).
We have nothing to fear because the kingdom of Jesus has come among us. St. Michael has defeated the demonic host, now left to torment the earth. But “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come” (Rev. 12:10). Because we are in Christ, we have conquered our evil foes and his minions. We have conquered him “in the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for [we] love[d] not [our] lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11).
Jesus himself is present, forgiving sins and making a new and clean heart in us. He purges you of the demonic host that seek to undermine Christ and His Word. Your fleshly allegiance to Satan is put to death when Christ’s kingdom comes. His Holy Spirit clothes you with the battle armaments when He baptized you and when He fills your ear. Christ’s own flesh dwells within you when you receive His body and blood in your mouth for the forgiveness of sins. You are remade in His image, restored in His flesh, and clothed with His righteousness. You are armed to the teeth with His Word. Thus each day, we live not in ignorance of the spiritual war being waged for our soul. Instead, we are prepared for battle, recognizing the evil foes of sin, the world, and the dragon. Woe to the one who “causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin” (Matt. 18:6). Woe to the world. Woe to the “one by whom temptations come” (Matt. 18:7). We cannot abide with sin. We cannot abide with the demonic host who tempts us to sin. We war against them in Christ and through Christ. Christ Jesus himself battles for us and with us. And by Christ only are we battle-ready to cast the demonic host out to wallow in the swine and drown in the lake of fire.
St. Paul bears witness to this spiritual battle. Those who are unwilling to forgive are ignorant of Satan’s plotting. He says, “what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:10-11). We are not ignorant of Satan’s work among us, when he uses false shepherds to lead the flock astray through false teaching. He says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:19-21).
When Jesus promises to never leave you or forsake you, He is very specific about where He will be. He has promised to be present where His Word is preached and taught truthfully. He has promised to be where his Holy Name is placed on the catechumen in Holy Baptism. He has promised to be forgiving sins where Holy Absolution is pronounced. He has promised to be in His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Yet, we receive His presence in our ears, on our foreheads, and in our mouths infrequently, usually no more than each Lord’s Day. Having His Holy Supper celebrated here today is a special gift to those weak or tormented souls in need of His restorative medicine of immortality. Yet, we are tempted to think that they are not available to us as often as we may desire or need them. May it never be so! If you require the balm that heals our sins, go to your pastor in repentance and hear the absolution of Christ proclaimed in His stead. If you doubt your adoption as God’s child, make the sign of the Holy Cross and declare to the wicked foe, “I am baptized!” If you need renewal of faith, return to His Word, praying the Psalms or meditating on Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. If you require the restoration to your flesh to make it through the next week, pray that your congregation will celebrate the Holy Sacrament, so that you may dine at the heavenly banquet with the angels and archangels.
You see, Christ has not left you or forsaken you. He is present in His Word, His forgiveness, His baptism, and His supper for you. And on top of all of this super-abundant showering of His gifts, He gives you yet another blessing to guard and protect you, His holy angels. The Psalmist says, “No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:10-12). Satan tried to use the Psalm to tempt Jesus as they stood on the pinnacle of the temple. Afterwards, these are the same angels with ministered to our Lord (Matt. 4:11). The angels rejoice when you come on your knees before the Lord. Jesus says, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
The cartoon image of the devil and angel on each should isn’t far from the truth. God sends His angels, which means messengers, to bear witness to Him. When you are afraid, when your sin torments you, when doubt assails you, when death surrounds you, trust in the Lord. His Holy angels bear witness to Him. Pray like Luther, “Let your holy angel watch over me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me.” They recall to you His promises that are unshakeable.
Be cautious too. The angels are not substitutes for Christ nor worthy of worship. All sorts of nonsense is around concerning the heavenly host. Dearly beloved, listen to God’s Word. They are holy messengers to bear witness to Jesus and His saving death and resurrection. The writer to the Hebrews says it well: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14) God put all things in submission to His son including the angels. But for a time, Jesus was lower the angels, suffering death crowned with glory and honor. In this death, Christ tasted death for all of us, freeing us from its power and bondage (Hebrews 2:1ff).
This is the message of St. Michael and all angels. Let us rejoice with the angels in the great salvation of the Christ, singing with the holy host of heaven the great deeds of our Savior. Amen.