Those who are with us

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Sermon for St. Michael and All Angels

Genesis 28:10-22  +  Revelation 12:7-12  +  Matthew 18:1-11

There’s an interesting story in 2 Kings 6, a story of a remarkable act of divine deliverance.  The king of Syria was trying to make war against Israel.  He would plan an ambush in a certain place.  But every time he chose the place for the ambush, the prophet Elisha would warn the king of Israel ahead of time so that Israel never went near the place where the Syrians were waiting.  The king of Syria became angry, thinking that one of his servants was giving this inside information to Israel, but no, they informed the king that it was Elisha the prophet who had miraculous access to the king’s plans.

So the king of Syria decided he had to get rid of Elisha.  He sent horses and chariots and a great army to the city where Elisha was, and they came by night and surrounded the city. And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Those horses and chariots of fire that were with Elisha were a division of the angel armies of God.  Yes, angel “armies.” We shouldn’t think of angels as little children with wings, sitting around playing harps in the clouds.  We should think of them as powerful warriors in the army of the Lord of hosts.  “Lord of hosts” (or from the Hebrew, “Lord of Sabaoth,” as we sing in some of our hymns) is a common Old Testament name for God.  It means “Lord of armies” and it refers to the angel armies under His command.

September 29th was set aside many centuries ago by the Church as a day on which we are to learn about and give thanks for the holy angels.  The purpose of this day is not to worship or venerate the angels; only God is to be worshiped (and the angels are in full agreement with that).  Nor should we pray to the angels for help, for they serve under the command of the Commander to whom we are to pray—Christ Jesus Himself.  But God has revealed many things about the angels in His holy Word, and we do well to pay attention, because there is a battle raging all around us, and there are unseen, powerful enemies who seek to harm us.  But those who are with us are more than those who are with them.

First, we should know where the angels came from and what they are.  The word “angel” comes from a Greek word that means “messenger.”  The Old Testament Hebrew word for angel essentially means “worker.”  When we speak about “the angels,” we’re referring to those special messengers or workers of God that were created as spirit-creatures in the beginning, sometime during the six days of creation.  They are not eternal or almighty, like God.  They are not flesh and blood like us.  And people do not turn into angels when they die.  Angels are spirits—powerful spirits created to serve God by ministering to man. Scripture says that, by Christ all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. 

In fact, there you hear some of the titles given to angels.  “Thrones, dominions, principalities, powers.”  Those titles seem to be describing different ranks among the angels in the angel armies, but what exactly those ranks are we don’t know. Other words used in Scripture to describe angels are cherubim (when they appear in physical form) and seraphim (when they appear with flames or fire).  We know the names of only two, possibly three angels.  Michael is mentioned a few times in Scripture, and he is called a “chief” angel or an “archangel,” which is why this day in the Church year bears his name.  Gabriel is mentioned, the one who appeared to Zechariah and Mary before the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus.  The Old Testament apocryphal book Tobit has the angel Raphael as one of the main characters.

As I mentioned, the angels were created to serve God by ministering to man, and were given places of authority in the heavenly realms.  They were created holy and righteous and good, like God.  But soon after their creation, as Jude tells us, some of them did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode; these God has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day.  Some of the angels rebelled against God; the leader of the rebellion has now received the name “Satan,” which means “Adversary.” So now there remain many good angels—holy angels.  But there are also a good number of evil angels—devils or demons.  They are at war with one another.  And you and I and the rest of mankind are what they’re fighting over.

The evil angels may be “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness,” but that doesn’t mean they’re locked up and immobilized.  On the contrary, they wage war against mankind, and especially against believers in Christ.  This world is a battle zone, and we don’t even give it a thought as we go about our day to day business, do we?

We should.  Because Paul says in Eph. 2 that the devil, the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit now works in the sons of disobedience.”  The devil has unbounded influence over unbelievers.  He is at work in them.  He works through them.  That doesn’t mean they’re possessed by demons, although possessions haven taken place, especially at the time of Christ.  It does mean the devil has his way them and wreaks havoc on the earth through them.  To be outside of Christ’s Church is to be at the mercy of the demons, and the demons have no mercy.

On the other hand, the devil is not the adversary of unbelievers, but of believers, so Peter warns us urgently: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

He is at work in the Church, sowing discord and strife, trying to turn believers away from the Word and against one another.  St. Paul tells Timothy that much of the false doctrine that rises up in the Church is the doctrine of demons.  And when some inside the Church start believing unscriptural things, it shouldn’t surprise us, because Paul writes to the Thessalonians that the devil is at work, even using powerful signs and delusions, to turn Christians away from the truth.

The evil angels are also at work in the state.  Again, that doesn’t mean that government leaders are possessed by demons, or that Hitler was the devil (or any other world leader, for that matter).  But the devils influence the world governments to spread evil and wickedness in the earth and to snuff out the light of the Gospel.  When we see great, inhuman wickedness like unjust wars or the toleration and even approval of something so horrific as abortion, when we see homosexuality heralded as normal or even beneficial, when we see Christians being oppressed and the truth being suppressed, we shouldn’t imagine that human wickedness alone is to blame.  There are demonic influences behind all these things.

The evil angels are partially to blame, too, for the wickedness that invades the home as the devil wars against our race, as pornography and sexual sins, drugs and drunkenness take hold more and more in this world.  Temptation is everywhere, from the big temptations to burst out in anger or to commit adultery, to the seemingly small temptations to neglect God’s Word and Sacraments.  And some people are so foolish as to invite the devil into their homes and lives by practicing witchcraft and other dark arts.

The truth is, we are surrounded by these evil creatures who seek to devour us and separate us from Christ. The truth is, we don’t stand a chance against them.  We human beings are not equal to them in power or might.  As we sing in A Mighty Fortress, “on earth is not his equal.”

What will we do?  “With might of ours can naught be done; soon were our loss effected.  But for us fights the valiant One whom God Himself elected.  Ask ye, who is this?  Jesus Christ it is.  Of Sabaoth Lord.  And there’s none other god.  He holds the field forever.”

Christ came to crush the devil’s power, and by His life of fighting off every temptation, and by His death on the cross He took away the devil’s power to accuse us.  He descended into hell, not to suffer, but to conquer, and He rose victorious over sin, death and the devil, so that now, as we heard in Revelation, Michael, the chief angel, has cast down the dragon out of heaven where He can no longer accuse believers in Christ before God.

This Christ has paid for our sins and has rescued us from the dominion of darkness through Holy Baptism and has made us His own.  And now, as Paul says, if God is for us, who can be against us?  So we are persuaded, together with the Apostle Paul, that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And now, having been brought into His kingdom, not by works, but by faith, we can say confidently with the prophet Elisha, those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  Christ has chosen to employ His angel armies in our defense.  They protect the little children from the devil’s snares, as Christ said in Matthew 18, Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.  But they protect adult believers, too, as David says in Psalm 34, The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them. As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 91 and as we sang today in the Gradual, For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways.

Angels were there when the Law was given to Moses.  Angels were there in the Old Testament fighting for the people of Israel. Angels were there announcing the conception of Christ to Mary, the birth of Christ to the shepherds, the resurrection of Christ to the women, and the future return of Christ to His apostles at Christ’s ascension.  Angels are there to escort the souls of believers when they die to Abraham’s bosom. Angels are in heaven worshiping God, and they are also here with us now in the Divine Service. Angels are there, still fighting for the Church against the devil’s schemes. By the power of Christ, they will win this battle.  And angels will be there with Jesus when He returns.

Those who are with us are more than those who are with our enemies.  And yet, for as glorious as the holy angels are and for as powerful as they are, God has exalted our sinful race above the angels, because Christ took on human flesh, not angel “flesh.”  Christ died for sinners, not for angels, and Christ has not called the angels His brothers, but us.  Let us give thanks to God for the protection and the service of the holy angels.  Let us take comfort in the presence of these powerful friends and co-servants of Christ.  And let us pray, as Luther teaches us in his morning prayer, that God would continue to “send His holy angel to be with us, that the evil foe may have no power over us.”  Amen.

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