Daniel 10 and 12, Revelation 12 and Luke 10.
Dear friends in Christ:
In this life, there will be days of war and days of peace. Today, thankfully, is a day of peace. At least it seems to be. No doubt there is some kind of war taking place somewhere in the world right now. There always is. But we, at the moment, are at peace.
We are thankful for peaceful days because war is awful. Some of you have experienced it first hand, by being on the front lines, or by losing someone who died there. Most of us have experienced some level of fear and uncertainty that comes from living in a time of war. It wasn’t too many Septembers ago that we were gathering in this room for special prayers following an act of war just down the road that affected us all.
Today the church is celebrating the festival of St. Michael and All Angels. We celebrate these angels because they have participated in great wars on our behalf, and because they are still helping to defend us. We are thankful for the wars they have fought and the peace they bring us.
Today’s sermon will concentrate primarily on Michael. Angels seem to have primary roles as either messengers, leaders of praise or warriors. Michael is definitely a warrior. As we think about Michael, we will consider him as Israel’s prince, God’s servant and our defender.
Michael is one of only two angels to be named in the scriptures—the other being Gabriel. Both Michael and Gabriel are mentioned in the book of Daniel. Gabriel is mentioned again at the birth of Jesus. Michael, as we heard, is mentioned in the book of Revelation. He is also mentioned in the book of Jude.
When we first meet Michael, in the book of Daniel, he is identified as a “prince.” He’s first called “one of the princes,” then “your prince” and finally “the great prince.”
In our use of language today, the word prince has a pretty specific meaning. A prince is a son of the king. In the Bible, the word has a much broader meaning. Any kind of ruler or person of importance could be called a prince. In fact, sometimes translations will avoid the word “prince” and just say “ruler.”
I like using the word prince, because it carries the connotation of being related to the king, and this works particularly well with Michael, since the name Michael means “one who is like God.”
Whichever word we use, the important point to note is that Michael is not a human ruler. Israel’s human rulers were called kings, not princes. And besides, Michael is far greater than any king. He is, according to the text, “the great prince who has charge of [God’s] people.” Michael’s greatness comes because he is one of those beings that exists beyond the realm of what humans can see.
The Old Testament is filled with such creatures. Some are simply called “angels”—meaning messengers. Others are known by names such as Seraphim and Cherubim. Sometimes these creatures are simply referred to as “men.” That’s how the one speaking the words of our text is described. If we were to read a few verses ahead, we’d hear that these words come from “a man clothed in linen with a belt of fine gold.” We know that this messenger was more than a man. He was an angel. Gabriel, likewise, was also called a “man” a chapter earlier.
By calling Michael a prince, we are also to understand that he was a leader. We see this leadership in the reading from Revelation, which refers to “Michael and his angels.” We also see it in the book of Jude, which calls him an “archangel” – meaning a higher-ranked angel.
Also to note, is that Michael is a leader of the good angels. Not all angels are good. There are plenty of bad or fallen angels as well. By the way, the leader of the bad angels is also called a prince. In John 12:31, Jesus calls him “the prince of this world.” In the book of Ephesians (2:1), Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air.” We most commonly refer to him as the devil or Satan—the one who deceives.
Michael, as we noted before, is not only a leader but also a warrior. He fights. Michael, however, is not a warrior who fights battles of his own choosing. Michael fights only as a servant of the Lord God. His mission is to protect God’s people, and his orders come from God.
This brings us to that war in heaven mentioned in the book of Revelation. In this war, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, who is identified as the devil. What an amazing war that must have been! The Book of Revelation, in fact, has a number of references to this war, employing many graphic and spectacular images. Here we are simply told the war’s outcome—the dragon and his angels were defeated and thrown down to the earth.
A little later I’ll speak to the implications of the dragon being thrown down to earth. But first, let’s think about the implications of the dragon being cast out of heaven.
The text says that upon the dragon and his angel’s defeat, there was “no longer any place for them.” This is significant, because before this war, Satan appears to have a place in what we sometimes call the heavenly council. Specifically, Satan is able to approach God and challenge him, as he did, for example, regarding Job. Satan claimed that Job only loved God because things had gone well for him. Job was accused of having conditional faith. Likewise, Satan was able to approach God regarding the high priest Joshua, representing his nation, as recorded in Zechariah chapter three. Satan pointed out that the nation was not being faithful to God. They stood rightfully accused.
Our Revelation 12 reading explains how Satan routinely—“day and night”—acted as accuser of God’s people, pointing out their sin.
What could God say about that sin? Were not his people sinning? Greatly?
God could only hope that people would ultimately be faithful, as Job turned out to be. And He could hope that people would turn away from their sin, as He instructed the people to do through Zechariah the prophet and Joshua the high priest.
But the war in heaven signaled a change to this routine. Something new happened at that time.
The war in heaven came about because God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came down to earth on his own mission. The beginning of Revelation 12 depicts this mission of Jesus by using the image of a woman having a child. The dragon tries to kill the child but it cannot. Instead, the child is “caught up to God and to his throne.”
This brief account skips most of the details of Jesus’ life. It doesn’t mention, not here anyway, that the child grew up, taught, suffered, was crucified and rose from the dead. The account skips right to the Ascension—when the resurrected Jesus returned to heaven.
But the section of chapter 12 that we read does make reference to those details. Here we read that the accuser and his army has been “conquered… by the blood of the Lamb… and by the word of [the] testimony.” When Jesus went to the cross, he won a victory. He paid the price for human sin with his blood. His resurrection shows that he was indeed victorious. This testimony has been shared with the church. It is going forth, even now, destroying the forces of evil.
There was war in heaven. We can think of this as simply the heavenly manifestation of Jesus’ victory on the cross, and that would be true. But let us not forget the participation and contribution of God’s servant Michael and all the angels he commands too. They were there. They fought. They helped the cause.
There was war in heaven. It seems to have already started when Jesus sent out his disciples to prepare his way and heal the sick. We recall how the disciples reported “even the demons are subject to us in your name” and Jesus said “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:17-18). Jesus knew the final victory would soon come.
The war was completed right after Jesus ascended back to heaven. At that time, Jesus had finished his mission and Satan could no longer accuse God’s people. Michael, it seems, got the honor of throwing his ancient rival out.
We are grateful for the victory that was won at that time. Because of it, Satan can no longer accuse us. By coming to God simply in faith, we stand before him forgiven.
But, we also do well to remember the war that still exists. Satan has been “thrown down to the earth.” That’s where he’s fighting now.
I began this sermon by giving thanks for peaceful times, because we all tend to judge war or peace by what we can see. But the scriptures remind us that there is spiritual war still happening all around us—war that we will sometimes see and sometimes not see. St. Paul reminds us that “our fight is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).
In considering this war, on the one hand we can be thankful that Satan has been bound (Rev. 20:2). His power has been limited.
On the other hand, we remember that the devil still “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
Thankfully, Michael is our defender. He and all the angels fight on our side. They fight in the realms that are unseen. They fight the forces that are seen as well. They protect us from evil. And they help us as they bring the messages from God that we need.
Thanks be to God for St. Michael. Yes, we call him a saint because he, like each of us, is a creature of God serving in faith, and because he, certainly much more than each of us, is one deserving of that special title. He has proven faithful. He has fought the good fight. He is fighting it still.
What about you? What about me? Are we fighting the good fight?
Our fighting is not always so good, and never sufficient on its own. We will always need to throw ourselves at the mercy of God. But it is still our calling to fight. We are to fight the good fight of faith. We are to be faithful, unto death, that we may receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).
Kantor Aaron has been making a very good effort among us to learn and memorize Luther’s morning and evening prayers, both of which end with a reference to an angel. So, let me end by saying words from these prayers which I hope are, or are becoming, very familiar to you: “Into your hands [O Lord] I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”