"WAR IN HEAVEN"
Saint Michael and All Angels
September 29, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
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 and 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.
Revelation 12:7-9 (ESV)
Today is a special day on the calendar of the church year, even though not that many Christians celebrate it in any way. September 29 is the feast day of Saint Michael and All Angels. It's really a misnomer in a sense, because Michael, as he is described in the Scriptures, is not a saint in the usual sense. We usually think of saints as being humans like us--sinners who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and respond to that redemption with lives that exemplify Christian virtues. But Michael is neither a human nor a redeemed sinner; he is an angel--an archangel in fact. He is mentioned four times in the Bible: twice in the Old Testament book of Daniel, once in the letter of Jude, and once in the passage from Revelation that serves as this morning's text. The Biblical portrait that we get of Michael is that of the great angelic protector of God's people, guarding them from the forces of evil.
The Scripture passage before us this morning was the source of quite a bit of medieval art and fantasy. It aroused in the minds of many the image of Saint Michael going off to slay some dragon. But the intent of this passage is not to create some storybook excitement, but to tell us of a heavenly conflict--a conflict that might help explain to us the origin of evil and the presence of sin in this world. Saint Michael and All Angels' Day is not a time to engage in idle speculation about angels (such as the classic academic question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin). It is instead a time for us to open our eyes and hearts as God gives us a glimpse into the unseen but very real forces that struggle with one another even now over our spiritual welfare. As we examine this text, we will focus on how it answers two questions in particular: (1) What was this war in heaven? And (2) what is its significance for us?
The war in heaven is essentially a struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The decisive battle took place sometime between the end of creation and the appearance of Satan in the Garden of Eden, disguised as a serpent. This is a battle that Jesus Himself alluded to when He said "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18). What exactly happened? To arrive at an answer to that question, we have to piece together the scant information that the Word of God gives us. Apparently one of God's angels, named "Lucifer," the "light-bearer," wasn't satisfied with the heavenly bliss that was his. It bothered him that Someone else (namely, God) was in charge and was to be obeyed. So he rebelled, together with an angelic force. What the devil did was really no different than what you and I do every time that we sin. We, like Satan, reject the Lordship of God and act as if we ourselves were God. We want to be our own boss, to control our own destiny, to demand our "rights." In effect we have an attitude that says: "I'm in charge. Who is God that I should do what He tells me to do?" No matter how you want to paint it, that's an attitude of rebellion, the same attitude of rebellion that caused Satan's downfall.
Our rebellious and independent spirit might make us feel good for a while, but it is soon quelled in defeat. Satan's rebellion wasn't successful either. It resulted in him and his cohorts being expelled from the glorious presence and fellowship of their Creator. Michael and his angels prevailed against the dragon. The power behind this victory, we are told a few verses later, is nothing less than "the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 12:11). The Son of God Himself, whose death on the cross would come centuries later, nevertheless gained the victory over evil for the archangel and his hosts. Good overcomes evil. Christ overcomes Satan. God's redeeming grace in Christ overcomes our sin. The victory is His--and ours.
Why should any of this matter to us today? It should matter because this conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil is still going on today. We can't see it, but believe me, it's there. Satan is defeated by the blood of Christ, but that doesn't mean that he has stopped fighting. A defeated enemy doesn't always give up that easily. Our government has learned this lesson all too well in the years since the end of the Gulf War. Why is that so? Because someone who knows that he is going down in defeat is going to do everything he can to drag as many others as possible down with him. Misery loves company. Satan knows that he's damned, and he doesn't want to be alone in his damnation. So he does whatever he can to drive a wedge between God and His people. Do you know what the name "Satan" means? It means "accuser." Satan is forever accusing us of our sin in an effort to make us doubt God's ability or willingness to forgive us. He uses many tactics in this spiritual warfare. But God, in the mercy of Christ, responds with forces of His own (we know them as angels) to act in our best interests to preserve our saving faith in Christ.
God's message to us in all of this is that, no matter what evils we may face in this world, we're not facing them alone. We are armed first and foremost with the precious blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, shed on the cross for our redemption. No matter how much Satan accuses us, we stand before the judgment of God "not guilty" if we are "in Christ," for the Word of God expressly assures us that "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Satan may accuse us and try to shake our confidence, but we live under God's grace in Jesus Christ. And as we live in this world, there's a host of God's angels at work for our welfare, to guard and protect us from the attacks of the evil one who is defeated and now seeks to bring others down in defeat as well. Angels are for real and they are still at work in our world. They are more than just an ornament for the Christmas and Easter stories; they are with you and me today as we struggle against the evil influences that we face in life.
The feast of Saint Michael and All Angels should serve as a reminder to us that there's a lot going on in our world that we don't see. That shouldn't surprise us, since we confess it with our lips all the time. In the Nicene Creed we describe creation as "all things, visible and invisible" (Nicene Creed, Article I). In our Communion liturgy we join our praise with that of "angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven" (Lutheran Service Book Altar Book, page 145). The eye of faith with which the Holy Spirit has blessed us enables us to trust in the power that we can neither see nor understand. Because we are redeemed by Christ, we belong to God, and He takes care of His own. This knowledge is our comfort and our confidence as we live lives dedicated to Him in a world that knows Him not.
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.