St. Michael and All Angels Day| Rev. Rolf Preus| September 25, 2011| Revelation 12:7-12
And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with Him. Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. “Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”
The Book of Revelation is the most distorted, misinterpreted, and misunderstood book of the Bible. It uses symbolic language. It is rich in biblical imagery and allusions. If you want to understand the Revelation of St. John it is helpful to be familiar with the rest of the Bible. You also need to know what is at the heart of the Christian religion. It’s not politics. It is the blood and righteousness of Jesus. It’s a tragedy that the final book of the Bible has been hijacked by religious fanatics with a political agenda. Their bizarre and fanciful theories about the end of the world have become popular among many Christians in America. The spiritual battle between Christ and Satan is trivialized into a political squabble about the future of Palestine. Christians are distracted from the real message of the Bible and the Book of Revelation. That message is beautifully set before us in our text for today.
Here we see the cosmic battle of the ages. It is between the devil and his angels and Michael and his angels. The devil and his angels were thrown out of heaven. Kicked out of heaven he rages here on earth for the short time remaining to him.
The nature of the cosmic battle between Michael and his angels and the devil and his angels is spiritual. It is not fought over geographical territory. It is fought over human souls. Its weapons are not guns and bombs but words. On the one side is spiritual freedom and on the other side is spiritual slavery. There is no neutrality. One sides either with Michael or Satan.
The name Michael is a question: “Who is like God?” He is the ruler of the created angels. Is Michael a created angel? Or is he none other than the uncreated and eternal Son of God himself? The term “Angel of the Lord” is used in the Old Testament to refer to Christ before he was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. An angel is a messenger. He speaks for God. Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh. And this is what brought about the war in heaven. God the Son became a baby, a boy, a man. He obeyed. He suffered. He died. By joining the human race and doing what was required of humanity, Christ shut the lying mouth of the devil. This is the nature of the spiritual battle of the ages. It’s a simple matter of Christ silencing the lies of the devil.
In our text the devil is called the “great dragon” and the “serpent of old.” He is the one who led Adam and Eve into sin. He did so by questioning God’s word and promising them true wisdom apart from it. “You will be like God, knowing good and evil,” he said. By tearing their affections away from God’s word he led the entire human race into sin. Since the fall of Adam all of humanity is conceived and born in sin. We would be lost forever unless delivered by Christ. This is one reason we baptize babies. All of us are born in sin and in need of a Savior. Holy Baptism is a washing in which God washes us in the blood of the Lamb. We overcome the devil by the blood of the Lamb.
The name Satan means accuser. The name devil means slanderer. He accuses. He slanders. These go together. He does the damage he does by lying. Jesus called him a liar and the father of lies. This is how he murders souls. He lies. The nature of the spiritual battle between Christ and the devil is one of lies against the truth.
The devil’s lie is always a distortion of the truth. Consider his accusations. He accuses Christians before God. He went to God and claimed that the only reason Job honored him and obeyed him was because God had been so generous to Job. Satan accused Job before God. He accused him of being a religious hypocrite. Just like his children, Satan loves to accuse Christians of being hypocrites.
As if those who deny Christ, ignore his holy word, trample underfoot his precious blood, and defy God’s commands are not hypocrites! Oh, Christians are sinners. There’s no doubt about that. We define ourselves as sinners and saints at the same time. By nature we are sinful and unclean. By faith we are forgiven of all our sins and stand before God as saints, pure, holy, righteous, and fit for heaven.
This is what the devil would deny. And he lies. He trashes our faith and he lies. All of heaven witnesses his lies. His lies are recognized as lies in heaven as he and his lying demons are all thrown out of heaven. And while the devil angrily denies the gospel here on earth – hissing and threatening Christians who come near to him – he is permanently shut out of heaven. Expelled. Excluded. Banned from God’s presence.
But not us. We Christians are even now citizens of heaven with Christ. Right now we are living and reigning with Christ for a thousand years just as St. John writes in Revelation 20. This is a present reality enjoyed by all Christians everywhere. Wherever the word of Christ’s blood and righteousness is preached, taught, confessed, and believed there Satan is bound, his lying mouth is muzzled, and his power is destroyed. He who accuses God’s saints is shown to be a liar.
He says we are guilty when God says we are forgiven. He says we aren’t friends of God when God says we are reconciled to him through the blood of his Son. He accuses us whom God has forgiven. What right has he to do that? No right at all. This is why he must be silenced and overcome by the gospel.
The gospel is what tossed Satan out of heaven, out of God’s presence. The gospel is the message of the Lamb’s victory over the dragon. He is a dragon and a serpent. The dragon is fierce. He threatens. He is big, powerful, and intimidating. The serpent is clever and subtle. He sneaks up on you silently. Before you know it he’s got a hold of you and won’t let go. The devil has a way with words and the only weapon that will work against him is God’s word.
The gospel drives the devil away. The law won’t do it. The law tells us what we must do and not do. Naturally, the devil contradicts it. The devil wants men to cheat on their wives, wives to boss their husbands around, kids to sass their parents, and everybody to tear down his neighbor. The devil wants liars to defend their lies. He loves war and rumors of war. There isn’t a sin in which he doesn’t rejoice and there isn’t a good deed that doesn’t disgust him. Satan despises God’s law. But the law isn’t how to defeat him.
You see, the devil himself depends on the law to manipulate and control people and keep them away from God. First he lures us into sin. Then he accuses us with that very sin. He cons us into embracing disobedience to God and then when we’ve been conned he throws our disobedience in our face as proof that we don’t really belong to God at all.
The gospel is the weapon that tosses the devil out. He cannot tolerate the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. For this gospel is what rescues us from his power. It sets us free from his lies. It is the answer that shuts up his malicious accusations. The gospel tells us that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law for us and has done all that the law could ever demand of us. The gospel tells us that Jesus has given us the credit for his obedience. It also tells us that Jesus has suffered the full punishment that the law could require of us sinners to suffer. He has done so for all of us. So the law cannot condemn us anymore. We who are washed in Jesus’ blood by Holy Baptism, who repent of our sins and trust in Jesus alone as our Savior from them, who hold to his word in faith – we cannot be condemned. We are forgiven. We are righteous. We belong to Jesus. We are Christians.
This is what we say to the accuser. We tell him who we are. We are Christians, baptized in Holy Baptism, washed in the blood of the Lamb. We tell him who he is. He is condemned, cast out of heaven, no longer able to accuse us or our brothers and sisters in Christ.
And our testimony is true. Even as the devil rages in anger against us Christians here on earth, we confess the gospel together. We deny his accusations and his lies. He challenges our relationship to God and we tell him where to go. And as we do battle against him whose head our Lord Jesus has crushed, all of God’s angels in heaven and on earth are witnessing it. Our guardian angels watch over us at the same time that they see the face of our Father in heaven.
A world caught up in the devil’s lies denies the devil’s existence. We live in a world surrounded by angels and demons. That our modern sensibilities don’t recognize this doesn’t change the facts. The spiritual warfare is real and those who won’t fight have already lost the battle and accepted enslavement by the devil.
Just the other day one of my sons discovered an old Merle Haggard song recorded about thirty years ago in which Haggard kept asking the question, “Are we rollin’ downhill like a snowball headed for hell?” He was talking about our country. Consider how far we have fallen in the thirty years since that song was recorded! The popular culture defends the most degrading perversions imaginable. There are no sacred standards that won’t be held up to ridicule. If you defend biblical morality you’ll be accused of being a bigot. And as surely as the devil has been expelled from heaven the Christian gospel has been expelled from churches all over the country. What passes for Christianity is nothing but shallow self-help moralism, the religion of works-righteousness, the lie invented by Satan by which he led this whole world into sin. Oh yes, Merle. The snowball is rolling downhill, headed for hell.
But we’re not. We Christians are headed for glory. Angels attend us. They walk with us. They watch over us. They are God’s messengers, led by Jesus Christ himself, protecting the Holy Christian Church from Satan’s lies and schemes. They attend to us and they protect us. We cannot see them but they can see us.
Whenever we, Christ’s Church, gather here around the gospel and sacraments the angels gather with us. With them we praise him whose birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection have destroyed the power of Satan and silenced his diabolical lies. With the angels and saints in heaven we glorify our God and Savior for his victory. We willingly forfeit our lives in this world, claiming our inheritance in heaven where there will be no accusations raised against God’s saints. The devil will be permanently silenced and we will be confirmed in innocence and bliss with God forever and ever.
I walk with angels all the way,
They shield me and befriend me;
All Satan’s power is held at bay
When heavenly hosts attend me;
They are my sure defense,
All fear and sorrow, hence!
Unharmed by foes, do what they may,
I walk with angels all the way. Amen