Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, 9/29/2019. The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and epistle lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, click here.
A short 31 short years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, Rome burned.
In the year 64, the city of Rome burned for six whole days. It destroyed the slums, it destroyed the buildings. It even destroyed much of Emperor Nero’s own palace.
That last part comes as a surprise, mostly because, according to many historians, Nero himself instigated the fire.
He despised the city, but he could not wait for it to crumble on its own. He despised the political environment, and needed a quick fix. But more than the city, and more than the politics, Nero chiefly despised the Christians, who, though they were few in number, would certainly outlast him. Even emperors don’t live forever. Nero knew his time was short.
And so while Rome was still smoldering, he seized the opportunity to clamp down on them.
Nero accused the Christians of starting the fire, and blamed them for all the chaos that ensued. It worked. And before long Christians of every age were being fed to lions in the city’s last remaining amphitheater, to the resounding applause of Nero’s satisfied subjects.
Of course, all of this is terrible and violent and sad, but it also teaches us a lesson – that desperation has a way of making bad guys worse. What made Nero so dangerous is that he knew how little time he had.
So it isn’t for nothing that the last sentence spoken by the booming voice from heaven in our text from St. John’s revelation is one of warning:
Woe to earth, and woe to sea. Woe to you, and woe to me.
For the devil has come down to (us) in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short! Revelation 12:12b
What does this mean?
It means that Satan and the fallen angelic horde, one third of the heavenly hosts, will spend every last second between now and heaven doing the one thing they can: tempting you and accusing you.
For so long, those accusations were endured. From generation to generation Satan had a hall pass. Biblically, that much is clear. For a time, Satan was permitted in the throne room of God. And instead of groveling, and asking for his spot back, he spent his days and nights, his every moment, accusing. Job 1
He accused Adam. He accused Job. He even accused Moses so that he could steal away the patriarch’s body after his death. Jude 1
In God’s own presence, Satan would point to them and say: “That one’s selfish; that one’s prideful; that one is a gossip; that one is a murderer. Shouldn’t You, a just God, punish man for his rebellion, too?” One by one by one, Satan accused them and begged for divine sentencing.
It is always dicey to talk about someone’s mother. But as a father, I can say with absolute certainty, that threatening, accusing, and haranguing one’s children is worse. It means war.
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 any 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
The picture you get of heaven is the same one Jesus speaks of in our Gospel reading. Jesus can see what John sees. That’s why He tells the 72, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven!”
Already then, in the proclamation of His coming Kingdom, Jesus sees the victory, because Jesus sees the cross – where Satan would accuse… Him.
On the cross, Satan’s accusations do their worst. Everything he could say of Adam, of Job, of Moses, and of you – every filthy accusation finds its mark in Jesus pierced flesh.
The accusations were all Satan had – they were his very best play. And yet, on the cross, Jesus has answered for them by His sacrificial death. So the only reply from the heavenly courtroom is a loud voice, saying,
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. Revelation 12:10-11
Satan had been interceding, i.e. pleading against you. But now, Jesus, as He promised, has returned to intercede, to plead for you.
The war in heaven was not won in heaven, but on earth. The war in heaven was not won with swords, but by the blood of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8 The battle wasn’t decided by a ratio of troops that happened to fall in St. Michael’s advantage. There was simply no longer any place for them.
Christ has ascended in triumph, in victory; Satan and his angels have been cast down in defeat. And they know their time is short.
So with what little time they have, they will do their worst. Satan will tempt and torture and try you.
In agony and desperation he counts your sins, throws them in your face, and shouts to the heavens, “Don’t you see?! Don’t You see who they really are?! They are arrogant and stingy and hateful, lazy and unloving. They are not worthy of You! If there is any justice in You, then leave them to me.”
But God’s ear has been deafened to Satan’s accusation. For there was no longer any place for him in heaven. But there is room for you. Heaven is where the saints are out of the accuser’s reach. And heaven is here.
Heaven is here because Jesus is here. And even the demons are subject to you in His Name. That means even more than it did to the 72, because Jesus’ Name is more than a stick to beat down devils with.
It’s the Name you were washed into in your Baptism. It’s the Name to which you were returned this morning in the Invocation, and in Confession & Absolution.
You are gathered here in Jesus’ Name, and it is heaven. For the blood of the Lamb, by which the heavenly battle has been won, is present on this altar, poured into the chalice, and into your mouths, you saints of His.
Christ gives this gift to you; not to the angels, whom you will judge on the last day 1 Corinthians 6:3, but to you.
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! Revelation 12:12a
Not only because the demons fall back as you advance, but because your names are written in heaven.
To Christ be all the glory, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.