Guest Pastor James Krikava preached this sermon on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels 9/27/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: StMichael Bulletin
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.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The word of God we will consider for our celebration of St. Michael and All Angels Day turns our attention to the archangel Michael and those heavenly creatures, the Angels.
In the name of Jesus, dear fellow redeemed:
St. Michael’s and All Angels’ Day was designated by the early church to be celebrated each year on September 29. It usually falls on a weekday but once in a while it falls on a Sunday. The Lutheran Church retained such weekday festivals, especially when the content of the day was Scriptural, and doubly so when that Biblical content was not heard during the regular Sundays of the year.
This is the case with today’s festival of angels. What is so important about angels that we have such a festival devoted to them? We even have an area of doctrinal study about them called Angelology. Indeed, in modern times, there are those, even within the Church, who would relegate angels to pure symbolism in church poetry, song, and art from a superstitious past. They would convert the existence of angels as real personal spirit beings into an ideological construct of “good” or “evil” depending on which kind of angel is meant. For angels are not only good. Satan himself is an angel, fallen to be sure, but an angel nonetheless.
An unbeliever once ridiculed Christians who tried to erase the notion of real angels by turning them into symbolic metaphors for the Platonic ideals of good and evil. He wrote, “The demonic angels must be taken as necessary components of the world view of Jesus and the Apostles … If Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, there was no need of His coming if there was no devil; if there is a devil only as the personification of the principle of evil – all right, then also a Christ as an impersonal idea will suffice” (David Friedrich Strauss, note 1, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 1:497). Quite sharp, but he is right! By such deconstruction suddenly our entire faith and hope for salvation becomes nothing more than an “idea” concocted in the mind of man, and we are again lost. Therefore, let us ask ourselves:
Who are the Angels?
First, they are God’s creation. They are not gods, for there is only one God, the Triune God, who is one in essence and three in persons. Therefore the angels had to be created; in this sense they are creatures, like you and I. From Genesis to Revelation Scripture bears witness to their existence, and even though we are not told by Scripture on which day they were created, we know that they were; as it is written: “All things were made through Him [even angels], and without Him nothing was made that was made.” John 1:1-3
Secondly, the name “Angel” is used in various ways in Scripture. Technically, it is an official title and does not describe the essence of the angels. The word that describes their essence is the term “spirit.” The angels we celebrate today are created spirit beings.
This means that when we run into the word “angel” in Scripture, it need not necessarily refer to one of these spirit beings. The OT Hebrew word usually translated as “Angel” is מלאך (Malach), and the NT word is ἄγγελος. These words mean “messenger,” and these created spirit beings are that.
But some of the “angels” in Scripture aren’t angels at all, at least in terms of the spirit beings we celebrate today. E.g., the OT prophet Malachi, whose name means, “My Messenger, My Angel” is a man, not a spirit being. In his book, he also says of the priest in the temple, “He is the מלאך (Malach) of the LORD of Hosts” (Mal 2:7). That is, he is the Lord’s angel or messenger or preacher, but a man to be sure. There is also that unique term in the OT, המלאך יהו, which is literally, “The Angel Yahweh,” and must be understood as God the Son, the Word and messenger of God even before His incarnation when He became man. For God the Son, the Messenger-Angel is always the Word, which is God.
After His incarnation, Jesus calls John the Baptizer God’s “ἄγγελος” who would prepare His way before Him. (Matthew 11:10 & Malachi 3:1) Christ himself is called the “מלאך (Malach-Angel) of the Covenant.” (Malachi 3:1) And even His disciples in the New Testament are called, “ἄγγελοι”, angels or messengers, who were sent by Him into Samaria to prepare for His arrival. (Luke 9:52)
None of these, however, are the spirit beings we hear about, for example, in the story of Jacob’s ladder, when Jacob beheld “a ladder set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (Genesis 28) Nor are they the angels who fought with St. Michael in our Epistle: “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.”
God is not an angel nor is Christ, for He is God also. God is uncreated; angels are created. Priests and prophets, apostles and preachers are created, too, but unlike angels they are body and soul, while angels are spirit only.
Thirdly, these created spirit-beings are many and various. In the vision of the prophet Daniel, armies of angels came forth before God like a fiery stream: “A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.” (Daniel 7:10) When Christ was born “a multitude of the heavenly host” appeared “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13-14)
There are also orders and classes among these angels.
When Adam fell into sin, God “drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life … lest he … eat [of it] and live forever” in the sin he had fallen into. (Genesis 3:22-24)
In Isaiah’s vision of God, above His throne and temple he saw “seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3) It is from this text that the Church prays in her liturgy of the Sacrament: “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify God’s glorious name, evermore praising Him, etc.” (Preface to the Sacrament)
Of course, we must also mention the evil angels, Satan and his minions. Originally all angels were created as positively good. As part of God’s good and beautiful creation, also of the angels it is written, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
But as our Epistle says, “war broke out in heaven.” Some of the angels rebelled. They did not remain in their original state of goodness, but fell away from God into sin. Those who fought with Michael were confirmed in their goodness and remain to minister to us as the heirs of salvation. But who is this Michael? It does not say He is an angel. Only St. Jude calls him “the Archangel.” (Jude 1:9) That word could mean an angel of high rank, but not necessarily so, since the word itself means “chief of the angels.” The name Michael means, “The One who is in the likeness of God.” Who else could this be but Christ Himself? As God He is truly the “chief of the angels.”
The evil angels, by their defection, became evil and can nevermore become good. The judgment has come to them already. They are confirmed in their evil, as they themselves testify when they said to Jesus, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29), that is, before the Final Judgment when those who reject Christ will hear the voice of God, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)
How God could allow these once good angels to fall into sin can only be explained with the words of the Scriptures themselves. St. Paul calls it “the mystery of lawlessness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:7) St. John writes it in bold letters: “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND THE ABOMINATION OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 17:5)
But it is also written, “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16) If God’s great goodness in sending His Son to live and die and rise again for you is a mystery, then so is evil a mystery of ungodliness. We know the “what” of both good and evil, but the “why” remains a mystery.
Fourthly, how shall we make use of our good friends, the angels? How shall we view them? We don’t seem to have a problem imagining the evil angels. Why not? Because by nature we are more like them than the good angels. Because we are by nature fallen like them, we can imagine them as horrific beasts and monsters of the night. The description of devils in Dante’s Inferno or in horror films comes into the mind of man quite readily because it’s how he sees himself: Fallen, sinful, and unclean.
But when we look within to imagine the good angels, how do we fare? We seem to come up with a bunch of weaklings and sissies. In times past they were presented as chubby little winged babies mounted at the top of church altars. In our day they are depicted in films as bumbling dunderheads played by the likes of actors, who act more like the Greek gods of mythology, falling into the same sins we do. Somehow that is supposed to teach us something about godliness. As if to say, if the good angels blunder and sin then I guess it’s okay when we do the same, so long as we are sincere and try our best, or some other such nonsense.
Of course that’s how WE would imagine them. If we bring them down to our level, maybe we won’t seem so bad. We will look better than others by what we do. We will be able to save ourselves by our own works of piety, our “little” failings notwithstanding.
But what does Jesus say in our Gospel? Once again, the disciples were clamoring for the best seats at the table.
“Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” they asked. And Jesus’ answer? “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Not exactly what they wanted to hear! They wanted to hear how good they were; how they could be seen as better than the rest by their accomplishments. But Jesus will have no part of this. The child has the lowest place. He hasn’t accomplished anything yet. He only trusts in his parents to take care of him. The disciples had grown up, or rather grown down, to trust in their own merits, their own loyalty to Christ, their own worthiness by what they had given up to follow Him. You might say, they came to have a faith in their faith instead of a faith in their Savior. And for their trouble, they felt they deserved the best places in the kingdom of heaven.
But Jesus calls this a cause of offense to the simple trust of the child, which relies not on self, not on works, not even on some self-chosen act of will, but on Christ alone, His person, His works, His self-chosen act of will to redeem you and call you to himself by sending His Spirit into your heart through the Gospel and the Sacraments. Therefore Jesus must deal sharply with the self-righteous old Adam, who here clings to his own disciples: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
But of the child who lives by faith alone in his Savior, He says, “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. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”
These angels lead you to the throne of God where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father; from where He sends forth His Holy Spirit to bring you to that simple trust of the child, the faith which merely receives the goodness and grace of God where it is found, namely, in Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Word mixed with the Water of Baptism that washes away your sins, in the Word of forgiveness spoken in the Absolution, in the Word of the Cross now preached, and in the soul-sustaining Body and Blood of the Savior given and poured out for you in His Supper for the forgiveness of sins.
If you must think of these angels in a visual way, don’t think of those little sissified “chubettes” perched on baroque altars. Think of what they really are: real guards, guardian angels, heavy dudes. Think of the front line in American football. On Sunday, if you are wondering whether or not to attend church, imagine a 6-winged 300 lbs. defenseman staring you in the face through the bars of his helmet, saying, “Without a doubt, get up and go! For only Christ and His Gospel in Word and Sacrament will save your soul.” Or think of that brave soldier, heavily armed, standing a post, ready to die if need be, saying, “No one will harm you. Not on my watch.”
These are the angels we celebrate today, the angels led by Michael, the One who is the very likeness of God, even Jesus Christ, our Lord; through whom we pray: “Let your holy angel be with me that the wicked foe may have no power over me.” (Catechism, Morning Prayer)