“The Fight Is On-The Victory Already Won” (Rev. 12:7-12)
St. Michael and All Angels Sunday (September 29, 2019)
Doesn’t it seem harder and harder to find any peace today? Everywhere we turn there is a sense of uneasiness…there is conflict… there’s uncertainty. And I don’t care where you look; on the political scene, in our culture or in our personal lives, it’s almost impossible to find a moment or a situation where there is not something totally upsetting the balance, rest, security, or peace of lives. Why, one might even question whether or not there is some cosmic conspiracy afoot to make sure we have no peace!
Now, I don’t want to sound alarmist or like some conspiracy theorist, but guess what, dear Christian? There is an all-out and coordinated assault already in progress to mess up our lives… hurt us… tear us away from God… and destroy our souls. And it is not merely some crazed, delusional, terrorist thug or gunman … or some self-serving, liberal, anti-traditional values, egomaniac in Washington… or even some antibiotic resistant, flesh eating, bacteria that should cause you and me the greatest concern and fear. For as the holy apostle of the Lord forewarns us, “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
And there is one mastermind behind this attack against us, who makes Adolf Hitler, and Osama Ben Laden look like nothing more than schoolyard bullies. The apostle John clearly identifies this one who has designed our fall as Satan; that is, “the enemy,” and “the devil,” “the slanderer.” In many of the visions in the Book of Revelation, Satan is pictured as the “the great dragon.” He is the same one who took the form of a serpent in the beautiful and perfect existence of God’s created order to deceive the first man and first woman into disobeying God and bringing upon themselves and the rest of us both temporary and eternal death.
In so doing Satan showed us that his wicked scheme to destroy us is not some off-the-cuff plot but has been in the planning stages from the beginning of creation.
Now, I know it is not politically correct nor does it make us feel comfortable to think about such things. We would much rather bury our head in the Pollyannaish sands of imagining that there is nothing real outside of what we can see and touch, or that we are only accountable to ourselves and not to some divine being who created us, or that there is nothing that threatens us that is beyond our human abilities and technology to fix and take care of. But the fact is Satan is just as real as is God who created him and all other creatures in this world. Heaven itself is warning us of this frightening truth: “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!”
Are you alarmed yet? If you are not feeling uneasy, nervous, and a bit afraid by now, then, borrowing from Martin Luther, let me just ask you to right now place your hand on your chest and see if your heart is still beating. Because if you are not alarmed by the devil and his scheme to destroy you, then you are either the most naïve person in the world, or you are already dead!
Fellow earth dweller, forget about worrying over whether or not Iran is going to develop nuclear weapons or global warming or even if Armageddon is just around the corner. The fight for your soul and for your life in eternity is already on. As J.R. Tolkien wrote in his epic trilogy, “the battle for middle earth has already begun.” The devil is fully engaged and you and I better wake up to that fact or we are as good as dead already. We are being warned that, even though the devil has been opposing God and those who are His from the beginning of his own fall into sin and rebellion, the world in ancient times witnessed nothing like what he is and will be unleashing upon us. He is no longer under any delusions. He knows that his time to act is short.
And, yet, the very fact that the devil’s time to carry out his evil scheme against us is waning, is, believe it or not, our very comfort. For as our text also acknowledges, now is also a time for you and me to join our voices to those of the heavens and all those in them and to rejoice!
Why rejoice in the midst of the perilous battle that has come upon us? Our answer is to be seen in the activity of another great creature of God; a holy archangel by the name of Michael.
In the case of only two angels in all of Holy Scripture are we ever given their personal names. Michael, of course, is one of them and the other is Gabriel. Gabriel, you may recall, is the angel who visited Mary and Joseph to give them the blessed news that they would be the parents of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. Michael, though, is actually the first angel identified by name in the Bible. We find him first referred to in the 10th and 12th chapters of the Book of Daniel. There he appears as the guardian and patron angel of Israel. He is called “one of the chief princes” of God’s angels. In Jude 9 Michael is called “the archangel.” The holy writer tells us that when Satan attempted to obtain the body of Moses, it was Michael who protected Moses’ body by saying to the devil, “The LORD rebuke you!” Michael’s very name is a confession of truth. It originates in the Hebrew and means: “Who is like God?”
Since the Middle Ages the Christian Church as set aside a day to commemorate St. Michael and All Angels. Many Lutherans continued the tradition so as to provide an opportunity to teach about God’s heavenly creatures, we call angels. The term literally means “messengers” and truly reveals one of the primary services they render to God and that is to serve as His messengers to mankind.
Michael embodies, however, another important service angels render. The holy writer to the Hebrews informs us that “angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” In other words, these wonderful creatures of God serve as God’s warriors and protectors of Christians, “guardians” if you will. And with the ancient serpent, the devil, on our trail, we need all the protection these holy beings can provide us.
As our text shows us, Michael is the warrior exemplar! He didn’t just keep the devil from having possession of Moses’ body to do who knows what sorts of evil with it so as to deceive believers, Michael and his angels made war with the dragon and his angels right in the realm of heaven itself. He was victorious, too. John reports that the devil proved too weak and Michael cast him and his angels out of heaven never to return. John adds, no longer was there found place in heaven for them.
I find this fascinating! Who among us ever thinks of heaven as being anything but a peaceful place. And, yet, it clearly wasn’t peaceful once. Now, if we think about it, we know why. When the archangel, now referred to as “The Enemy,” “Satan,” chose to disobey His Creator, there clearly would have been discord and strife in Heaven. In His very presence God now had beings He created to serve him in all holiness constantly living in disobedience and opposing Him. War was now inevitable. Evil needed to be cast out from God’s perfect presence.
But that war was not begun right away. God is not impulsive. He wages war in all righteousness and the patience of His grace. He couldn’t simply throw the “bum” out, so to speak. He had created this archangel; who many believe was first known as Lucifer, from the word for light. God had created him to be perfect and holy. God had created him also with a perfectly free will, a will he used to choose evil and attempt to usurp God’s authority.
Being perfectly just, however, God could not simply cast out or destroy this disobedient angel, as well as the other angels who likewise chose their own will over God’s. God had to demonstrate to heaven and earth that His judgments are always right and good. Accordingly, heaven remained without peace for a time and the devil retained access into God’s holy presence as we are shown in the Book of Job, as the Devil comes into God’s presence and provokes the LORD against Job to inflict him with trouble and pain.
But what triggered Michael to make war on the devil in heaven? Did he just take it upon himself one day to make his move? Did Michael have to strengthen himself first or convince enough other angels to go to war with him?
We are not left to speculate. John hears a great voice from heaven declare: “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, and they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
It wasn’t Michael’s decision as to when war was to commence just as it wasn’t really Michael’s power that would defeat the devil and cast him from heaven. It was all God’s call and His power; a call and power that were in-fleshed in His Christ, His incarnate Son. Peace in heaven and on earth between sinners and a Just God was initiated when God’s Son came and gave Himself as the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of all. That peace was then consummated when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the place of all authority and power at the right hand of God. It was at that point, then, that the song of praise reverberated throughout heaven: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come…”
Was not this the very substance of the angels’ song at Jesus’ birth in the skies above Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest…and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” With the coming of Christ, all heaven could celebrate and all repentant believers could enjoy peace with God, their righteous Judge, for the atoning sacrifice had come! God’s wrath would be assuaged. All that the devil had put out of order, Jesus would put right again! So, too, was the essence of the song of the worshippers following Jesus in His triumphant ride into Jerusalem. As heaven sang so they sang: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38).
God, nor anyone else in heaven, now had to endure the arrogance of Satan any longer. Likewise, now those sinners on earth could silence and send their accuser packing. Their guilt was washed away in the blood of the Lamb. In fact, they could go on the offense against the devil’s attacks by publicly witnessing to the blood of the Lamb; that is, by proclaiming the Gospel. In the power of the Lamb, Michael and his army could be unleashed to cast Satan out of heaven.
Jesus referenced this Himself on at least two separate occasions. He proclaimed at the return of the 72 from the missionary trip He had sent them: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:18,19). And again, the last week of his life after predicting his upcoming death he commented: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
Michael’s casting out of Satan from God’s holy presence is truly worthy of our remembrance and celebration. It signifies that victory over evil and the evil one is complete…totally devastating. His end away from the presence of God is certain.
As another chapter in Revelation pictures, at the return of Christ the devil will then be cast into the fires of hell, never again to accuse anyone… never again to deceive anyone… never again to stand in the assembly of God’s holy ones… never again to behold the beauty of the LORD. The devil will only know the torment of the full wrath of God forever.
But note when Michael cast the devil from heaven at Christ’s first coming, it was to the earth. The devil is not in hell yet. His defeat is already sealed in the blood of the Lamb but he is still engaged in war with the children of the Woman; that is the church. His battle with us is fully on. His defeat has made him full of anger. He knows his time is short. You and I and all other followers of Christ can expect unprecedented attacks by this evil one. He is a wounded lion… a roaring lion…fervently seeking to hurt, harm and kill us.
But keep in mind, even though in his wickedness he might enjoy seeing us bleed and in pain, it is not our physical death that is his goal. After all, he knows the Gospel. He knows that Jesus has conquered death for us in His death. He knows, Jesus, the Lamb has given him a mortal wound and has promised to all that believe in Him that even if we shall die, yet, we shall be raised to life again. The devil knows all this. Therefore, his coveted prize is not our earthly life, but our soul. His aim is to lead us away from God, by leading us to love our sin and hate repentance… by leading us to deny God and embrace ourselves as god…by leading us to abandon the true faith and instead believe all manner of falsehoods.
The battle is on, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. But let us remember, on account of Christ, there is no need to be afraid or to give up. As Michael demonstrates, the devil no longer has power to remain in heaven. He has no power to accuse any longer. He is cast out from the presence of the LORD. We can in faith defeat him through the blood of Jesus. As we remain in the witness of Christ, in His Word and the Sacrament of His body and blood, given and shed for us, we are made invincible by the blood of the Lamb. So, yes, the battle is on but the victory is already won. Amen.