Feast of St Michael and All Angels (Observed)
September 30th, Year of Our + Lord 2012
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, MT
Surprises – Revelation 12:7-12 and St. Luke 10:17-20
Do you like surprises? Depends, doesn’t it? What kind of surprise is it? A nice surprise, or a terrible surprise? Were you surprised to hear that angels in the Bible by and large appear as warriors? Is that a good surprise, or a bad one?
Our readings this morning are full of surprises. Imagine, for a moment, you are one of the heavenly host, a member of the Sabaoth, God’s mighty heavenly army. Imagine you are an angel of God, basking in the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, newly created to be a holy servant, a ministering spirit serving the will of the Author of Life. How surprised are you when Satan rebels? How surprised are you when 1/3 of God’s angels follow the most beautiful angel, Satan, into his rebellion against the Lord? All of you know the face to face, unveiled glory of God, but Satan, the greatest of the angels, turns away, rebelling, starting a war with God.
How does that happen? How does any being who knows the glory and goodness of God choose to turn away? That is very surprising. Surprising, and unanswerable for us. Before your mind goes too far down the rabbit hole, know that we don’t understand, and can’t understand, how and why it was that Satan fell away. Our reason cannot grasp it. There is no way for us to look back into that moment, and God has not explained it in His Word. So this must remain a surprising mystery to us for as long as this world endures.
But there are other surprises before us today, truths that surprise, and also encourage. So let’s set aside the question of how and why Satan fell away. Instead of pondering this frightening and unknowable choice, just imagine again that we are heavenly angels, present when Satan turned away. We learn very quickly that we will now be caught up in a cosmic war with Satan and all his fallen angels. This probably doesn’t surprise us, since we know and serve the true and living God, and Satan has rebelled against God. But the weapons of this war, well, they are surprising. The angels of God, following the lead of the Archangel Michael, defeat Satan and his hordes, not with lightning bolts or by hurling great boulders, no spears or knives or cannons or laser guided missiles. No, the angels defeat Satan with… the blood of the Lamb. By the blood of the Lamb and the Word of the testimony concerning Him, the power of the devil is broken, and he is cast down. No weapons, except Lamb’s blood and words. Surprising, no? How can Satan be defeated by blood and words?
Well, who is this Lamb about whom John writes in Revelation 12? He is the Lamb at the center of the whole book of Revelation, the Lamb first identified in the Gospel of John, chapter one, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, and also the Son of God. Jesus’ blood is divine blood, for He is both true man and also true God. Since it is divine blood, God’s blood, the blood of Jesus is able to wash sinners clean. Likewise, Jesus’ word is God’s Word, able to accomplish that for which the Lord sends it forth, even to create faith in stubborn sinners like you and me. These are the weapons of God’s angels. Indeed these are the only real weapons of God’s kingdom, the only weapons that can rescue us from death, and also God’s instruments to give us eternal life.
There’s another surprise to discover as we consider the weapons of the angels. I don’t think we can say for sure when the angels first understood, but surely the news that God’s Son would become a man had to surprise the cherubim and seraphim. You see, for the Son of God to have blood, He must become a man. God is spirit, not physical. Always has been, forever and ever. Physicality didn’t exist until God created it, until He spoke the material world into existence. Indeed nothing but God existed until He created it. The life of every other living spirit, angel or human, comes from Him, and to humanity and the animals God also gave a physical, material body. But God doesn’t have a body, for to have a body is to be part of the earth, part of the creation. God is the Creator. God is spirit.
But God the Son had to have a body, if Satan was to be defeated by His blood. So no wonder the angels came out in force at Jesus’ birth, filling the skies and serenading the shepherds with songs of God’s glorious grace: To God on High be Glory, and Peace to all the Earth, Good Will from God in Heaven, Proclaimed at Jesus’ birth! God’s Son came into human flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, come to save His people from their sins, a wonderful surprise, indeed.
But an even greater surprise remains, one not so joyful, at first glance. Jesus became a man, in order to save His people from their sins, to redeem them, to redeem us, from the punishment we deserve, which is to suffer in Satan’s kingdom forever. You see, the first part of the battle between good and evil went very badly. Satan rebelled against God, and by twisting God’s Word, he led Adam and Eve to join in His rebellion. By their sin, Adam and Eve joined the side of Satan in the great battle. By our corrupted nature, inherited from them, we too join in Satan’s ranks. Sometimes we do it unwittingly, sometimes knowingly, but always quite naturally. We are by nature sinners, rebels against God.
Jesus came to win back Adam and Eve and their children, to win us rebels back from Satan’s dominion. Satan’s dominion, his power over human beings, depends on our sin and guilt. So Jesus came to destroy the power of sin, by paying the penalty, for all of us. To do this, in the most terrible of all surprises, Jesus had to die. For His blood to have forgiving power, power to wash away all our sins, God’s Son had to die for all our sins, for the wages of sin is death. To win us back from Satan and eternal death, Jesus had to die under His Father’s condemnation, a most terrible, frightening, and yet beautiful surprise. For while we may most love to contemplate the gentle angels of our cultural imagination, while we may define love by listing things we find lovely, God takes another view. God says the greatest love is Jesus suffering on a cross, setting sinners free from the power of Satan. This is love, God’s love, for all people, that He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.
All of these surprises are hidden from our eyes, either historical events, like the Cross and Resurrection, or part of the hidden, cosmic, heavenly reality that surrounds us all the time, but we cannot see. These surprises are all true and real, but hidden from our eyes. But the seventy-two disciples Jesus had sent out to preach and heal received a different kind of surprise, an amazing, visible surprise. The 72 return to Jesus after their ministry tour, expressing their surprise: "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" Jesus affirms what they have seen and report, saying to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Imagine that. When the disciples, chosen and sent out by Jesus, proclaim the Good News of His coming, Satan falls from the sky. In a mystery of time and space and heavenly dimensions, the victory of the archangel Michael occurs in the preaching of the ministers of Christ. Demons, the fallen angels of Satan, are subject to them, in the Name of Jesus.
Demons are still falling. Satan fell when you were baptized, when God by water the Word adopted you into His family, and enlisted you into His army. The accusations of the devil against you are a lie. Oh yes, you are a sinner. Oh, yes, there are many failures in your life to which Satan can point, accusing you. Do not listen to his lies, for his accusations have no authority. Because you are baptized into Christ, because God has given you faith in His promises, you look to and trust in Jesus and His blood. By this Baptismal faith, however feeble it may at times seem, all the guilt and penalty of your sin is removed. For it has been paid for. Taken away. Satan can bring none of his evidence against you into God’s courtroom, for you stand before God’s judgment seat in and with Jesus Christ. His righteousness, His goodness, His sacrifice covers you.
Satan falls when the Word of forgiveness, the word of absolution, strikes your ear. Satan chokes on his accusing words when you eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you. Satan can no longer accuse you before God’s throne, because Jesus has paid for, suffered for, and washed away all your sins. For Jesus’ sake, God the Father declares that you are forgiven, not guilty, set free.
Because we sin daily, and surely deserve God’s punishment, we need to daily receive God’s forgiveness. We need to receive Christ by Word and Sacrament daily, because we are sinners, and also because of this one last surprise. Heaven rejoices at this very good news: 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. Good news, Satan is cast down. Good news for you, because Satan cannot accuse you or any baptized believer before the judgment seat of God. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them!
Good news, but with a frightening twist, for we still dwell on this earth. Satan is cast out of heaven, down to the earth. So, 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! In a very unhappy surprise, Satan, full of bitterness and great wrath, is here, still invisible to our eyes, but present here on earth, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, devouring many who reject Christ and His free gift of salvation. This is a very scary surprise. There is no question why life on this earth is so full of evil, since Satan and his demons are here, lashing out at all humanity.
That Satan has been cast down to the earth is scary. But do not fear, for Satan and his demons are not a threat to your life, for your true life is found in the resurrected Christ. Remember, they have conquered Satan by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Who is the “they” who have conquered Satan? “They” are the Church and the angels of God together, visibly and invisibly confessing the good news that Jesus by His death and resurrection has defeated Satan, and claimed you for His very own. Your future is safe. Michael and all the angels serve God, by guarding you. Through the Word spoken by His ministers, Christ comes to you, giving you His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who fills you with faith and picks you up and carries you through Jesus to the Father, as all the angels rejoice in Christ’s victory, which is your victory, in the Name of Jesus, Amen.