The 18th Sunday After Trinity October 19, 2003
44, 257, 344, 254, 47
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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.”
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow-redeemed:
Two nations at war…ambushes…loss of life.
United States and Iraq in 2003?
Israel and Syria in the days of Elisha
Syria was making war against Israel, but someone in the Syrian government was leaking secrets to the Israelites—or so the king thought, because the Israelites kept showing up at the attack sites. Eventually, word was given to the king that it as the prophet, Elisha, who was giving away the secrets. So the king of Syria sent a “great army” (2 Kings 6:14) to the city of Elisha and totally surrounded it during the night. The next morning, Elisha’s servant went out, saw the siege, and exclaimed fearfully to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:15).
Elisha knew what not to do. He told his servant, “Do not fear, for those who are with us than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Then Elisha prayed, asking God to make the servant able to see the protection that was all around him. God did open the eyes of the servant and so that he could see that the mountains were full of horses and chariots of fire.
Syria had a big and powerful army that the servant could see. God had a bigger, more powerful army that he could not see…at first, but once he was able to see it he knew God would provide deliverance. God DID provide deliverance by striking the Syrian army with blindness (read more about this in 2 Kings, chapter 6).
There are any number of ways that God can use in order to preserve and protect His people. One of the ways God does this is through His “hidden army” – His angels! You can’t see God’s angels, and yet you know they are there because God says they are and He tells you that He sends the angels to watch over you. You don’t know all the things the angels have done for you, and yet you know they have done a great deal because God says so.
Today we wish to consider this “hidden army” of God and what it means to us to have them serving us by God’s command and desire. In order to do so, we consider one angelic effort in particular…it’s WAR!! I. The Army of God II. The Defeat of Satan III. The Peace of Victory
There is a good deal of misinformation about angels that has become popular and is virtually accepted as “fact” simply because of it is so widespread. So it will be good to begin with some “angel basics” as told to us by God in the Bible.
Angels are not human souls in heaven (either before they are born or after they die). Angels are unique spirit-beings created by God to serve Him. Even though God does not tell us exactly when angels were created, we know that He created them and that their creation took place during the six days in which God created everything else. God says that He created, “ALL things that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible…” (Colossians 1:16) and “in six days the Lord made the heavens, and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Exodus 20:11).
Angels do not have bodies, they are invisible spirits. In order to be seen they must take on a form such as that of men as the two angels did when they accompanied the Son of God and informed Abraham about the coming destruction in Sodom and Gomorrah. The writer to the Hebrews writes: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers for by so doing, some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).
The angels are strong and “excel in strength” (Psalm 103:20) which is good because God gives them the work of “keeping you in your ways” (Psalm 91:11) – serving Him by providing you with protection. You wouldn’t want weak and tender body guards would you?
The angels are many. Jesus told Peter He could ask for more than 12,000 angels to help Him in Gethsemane; and John saw thousands upon thousands of angels around the throne of God in Revelation. The number and strength of the angels leaves no doubt that they are able to accomplish all that God asks of them.
The word “angel” means “messenger.” God’s angels are His messengers. They serve Him by carrying His message in what they say, such as the angels did for the shepherds at Christmas (cf. Luke 2:8ff); and they carry God’s message by what they do, such as the angel rescuing Peter from prison (cf. Acts 12:5ff).
However God chooses to have His angels carry “His message,” and whatever He commands them to do there is one thing that is the same in every task of the angels: They are sent by God for YOU! Hebrews says, “Are [the angels] not all ministering (serving) spirits, sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). Scripture’s answer to that question is a resounding YES!!
Of all the mention of angels throughout Scripture, only two are ever mentioned by name – Gabriel and Michael. Gabriel was the angel sent to Zacharias to announce the upcoming birth of his son, John; and six months later he was sent to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of Jesus. Michael is described as an archangel and he is the one mentioned in our text when John writes, “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.” [vv.7-9]
The Devil and all the evil angels were (like everything else God made) created “good.” However, at some time between the end of creation on the sixth day and the fall into sin, the angel whom we know as the Devil, or Satan, and the angels that followed him rebelled against God and were cast from heaven.
Jude speaks of the rebellion, “The angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). Peter writes about the evil angels being cast from heaven, “…God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).
The incident with the Dragon as described in Revelation and Satan’s fall after creation sound very similar, but they are not the same event. In Revelation, the angels’ battle with the Dragon is the second in a sequence of three “scenes” in John’s overall revelation. The other two scenes describe New Testament events and thus we would expect this one to also speak of a New Testament event.
But even more clearly than this, in Jude and in Peter GOD is clearly the one who has cast the rebellious angels from heaven. He simply casts them out as a result of their rebellion. It’s an accomplished fact. Whereas, in Revelation, the angels are the ones who are in action and they are doing battle with the Dragon.
Rather than referring back to what took place in the Old Testament, the battle between angels and Dragon is a description of a spiritual battle. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The battle between the Dragon and his forces and God’s “army” of angels is not an earthly battle, but rather a “heavenly” battle, that is, a spiritual battle for souls!
After a voice had spoken from heaven, Jesus said, “‘This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (John 12:30-33). Jesus spoke of the battle, He spoke of the ruler of this world, the Dragon, Satan being cast. This battle was brought to its climax when Jesus offered up His life for sinners to redeem their souls.
The spiritual battle for the souls of sinners is on in which the angels are very much involved. As we heard in the Gospel reading, Jesus was tempted by Satan to fall into sin and to fail in being our Savior. At two important times when your Savior—who is fully human and could be tempted to sin—needed to be strengthened in order to complete His work of redeeming your soul—God sent an angel to strengthen Him.
Angels were sent to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth on the first Christmas and at other times when God’s message needed to taken to sinners. Angels were sent to rescue God’s people from the world’s danger such as the rescue of Lot from Sodom. Angels were sent to rescue God’s earthly messengers so that the Gospel might be preached, such as the angel rescuing Peter. Jesus tell us that the angels rejoice every time a sinner repents: “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
The angels have an interest and a role in God’s plan of salvation! The angels will likewise be present when Jesus returns to judge all people. “Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16); and as we heard in the first Scripture reading this morning, the angels will be with us as we enjoy the Lord’s presence forever in the glory of heaven.
This angelic army of God is very much involved in the War against Satan and the work of God’s kingdom. Yet, the defeat of Satan lies not in the army itself, but in the King whose will they carry out and He who sends them!
The defeat of Satan is Jesus’ work. It is the purpose for which He became man and came to earth. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
John writes in the text: “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.” [vv.10-11]
The accuser, Satan, can no longer accuse. Satan is no longer the dominating power in the spiritual realm because Jesus defeated him when He died on the cross. Jesus went through the agonies of hell on the cross and by doing so won forgiveness for your sins. Where sin’s guilt no longer exists, Satan can no longer accuse as if it did. Satan has been cast down and overcome!
The accuser is overcome by the blood of the Lamb. John writes in his first letter, “the blood of Jesus Christ, [God’s Son] cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). In Revelation when John saw people clothed in white and asked who they were, he was told, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
With the blood of the Lamb washing sins away and thus leaving no room for accusation, the power of Satan is broken; the condemnation of sin is removed. Paul wrote to the Romans saying, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:33-34). The only one who judges us is Christ, and He has removed the condemnation from us and now pleads for us before the Father. Satan is defeated!
The salvation which Jesus brings is “here an now.” John wrote, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come” [v.10] Christ’s kingdom is not going to be an earthly kingdom established here at some time in the future and lasting for 1,000 years. Jesus is ruling in your hearts and lives RIGHT NOW with salvation and through His Word.
The reaction to the news of Satan’s defeat and Christ’s kingdom in our hearts is one of joy. “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.” [v.12]
Satan knows his end…his fate is sealed. He will be cast into eternal hell at the end of this age. He also knows his time is short to pull sinners into his destruction, and so he works, and works, and works. The Devil is cast down and with anger and malice and sin of every sort he is working to bring others into hell. However, the inhabitants of heaven—the believers in Christ—need not fear but can rejoice! We will prevail because Christ has given us the victory! It is a victory that does not fret about this life. It is a victory that lead Christian martyrs to “not love their lives to the death,” in other words, they loved Christ more than this life and lost their earthly life for confessing His name. It’s war, and the battles between forces for the souls of sinners will remain fierce until the end of time, but the ultimate outcome of the war is done—Satan is defeated! We have victory through Christ.
With victory in war comes peace. Sometimes the peace may be rather tenuous because of the fear of another uprising or a new enemy. Not so in this War. Satan is fully defeated and there are no other enemies either who can touch us. Thus, we enjoy the peace of victory.
Satan is, nevertheless, still is active on the earth and does battle for the souls of sinners—OUR souls. Paul wrote to the Ephesians telling them to take the shield of faith to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Ephesians 6:16). Stand with Christian faith as revealed in Scripture and with that Truth quench the attacks that a cast down, yet raging Satan tries to send your way. Knowing we have a shield of defense gives confidence…gives peace in the face of temptation.
When you fall into sin Satan will again try to accuse you and condemn you. Remember JESUS is the one who judges you (not Satan) and He has declared you righteous by His blood. John writes, again in his first letter, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). When you sin, don’t lose hope, but rather come to Christ confessing your sin, being assured from the Gospel that your sins are forgiven and that He pleads for you…and then go in PEACE.
Then there are so many things in this life itself that can rob us of peace and lead us into worry, cause physical harm, and emotional distress. God sends His army of angels to protect you. “Because you have made the Lord (not the angels, but the Lord), who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:9-12). With an army of angels dispatched to protect you, there is no cause for alarm, but every reason for peace.
We can be filled with thankful awe to realize that we are beneficiaries of such an awesome victory and wonderful peace. We are rightly humbled and again stand in awe to consider that the multitudes of God’s mighty angels are sent out for us! They are our servants by serving God and His purposes. YOU have mighty, powerful, spirit-beings serving YOU! Just think – the angels you read about in the Bible and whom you read doing all these wonderful things for God and the believers of that day, are the angels doing similar things for YOU!
As awe-inspiring and exciting as all this is, it is not the angels we worship or serve. In Revelation we hear that John bowed down to worship an angel and was corrected. “Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’” (Revelation 22:8-9).
Angels do what they do for you by the command of Your mighty and powerful God, who is also your gracious heavenly Father. Worship Him! Angels are amazing beings and how God uses them for us out of His love is even more amazing. But if angels become the center of trust, love, joy, and faith—and they do for some—then it is just another example of worshipping the creature rather than the Creator (cf. Romans 1:23) and that is idolatry.
…As we marvel at the army of God, we glorify and worship the King whose army it is.
….When we hear of the angels making war against the enemies of our souls, we confess our sins and put our trust in the Lamb whose blood washes us clean and whose Word gives us life.
…As we rejoice in the heavenly messenger of salvation, we give thanks to the God of salvation;
…and as we take confidence in knowing that the angels have been given charge over us to keep us, our real strength and peace is in the hand of Him who sent them. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.