Touching Upon Angels
TEXT: Revelation 12:7-12
ST. Michael & All Angels
September 29th marks a special holiday in the Christian Calendar. Today is the feast of St. Michael and all angels. It is a festival that dates back in one form or another, to the fifth century. It is one that you have probably not celebrated too often, however, because it usually falls on a weekday. Because the feast of St. Michael and All Angels falls on a Sunday this year it is a wonderful opportunity to take some time to touch upon the subject of angels.
And there is good reason to! There are many misconceptions about angels out there. Angels are the kind of "safe" spiritual topic that everyone can comfortably have opinions on, whether they are Christian or not. One of the most apparent is the show touched by an angel. While it is indeed warm and touching, what it has to teach about angels, their role, and their work is anything but. Angels are not in the business of granting second chances, or healing families torn apart. There is no angel of death mentioned in the Bible. Not once. Along the line of this show we also see countless angel stores, angel pins, angel posters, where the angels are always pretty, happy, musical, or naked babies. In other words, specialized deliverers of the warm fuzzies.
But that is only the tip of a very misconceived and discouraging iceberg. Many people today believe that angels are psychic mediums or spirit guides. The kind that is in the habit of telling you your fortunes for only $5.99 a minute plus long distance charges. (What are the charges to heaven anyway?) Others believe that angels are really aliens from another world and have nothing to do with the spiritual realms, or with any god. Others claim that angels are nothing more than animals with souls. If you don’t believe me, just check it up on the Internet. There are plenty more wrong ideas about angels out there, but that will do to gets us started.
So, if everything we’ve covered so far is NOT what angels are really like, then what DO we know about them? Let’s start at the beginning. Angels are real. They are not just a myth or a legend, not just a popular image in art and literature. They are not merely symbols of what might be, nor are they a convenient explanation for what can’t otherwise be explained. The bible makes over 300 references to angels. Angels are creatures, just like you, me, or the animals. There was a time when they did not exist either. They too are included in God's statement from Genesis: (1:31-2:1) “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.”
If that is true then one other thing must be true too. Angels are NOT people. And people do not become angels. When a loved one dies and goes to heaven they remain a human being. (Unlike Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercials or popular poems used at way too many funerals.) And speaking to the commercials, not every angel has wings. When we read through the Bible accounts we see that some appear like men, some like animals, some had two or six sets of wings, and some cannot be seen at all. Not once are they described as cute or naked babies.
Like all creatures, they too have suffered from sin but not like us. (2 Pe. 2:4) “For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment;” The evil angels tried to be like God by glorifying themselves. Those who sinned were cast down. We are told this no less than four separate times in the text from Revelation. But unlike us not all fell under the power of sin. There are still many angels of the light. Those who remain holy and in God’s presence, doing the work of our Lord. And there are countless scores of each kind in creation. The evil spirits in one man Jesus met were called Legion (a number of around 6000). While in John’s vision of heaven the angel hosts are described thus: (Rev. 5:11) “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” Indeed, in the Jewish mystical tradition it is said that at birth each child of God is given 11 000-guardian angels. While not substantiated by scripture this is certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
What else do we need to know about angels? Besides the fact that there are too many to count, they are also not cute or harmless. From our text today it is clear that after being thrown down from heaven Satan and his evil angels have only one purpose left in life: trying to deceive us and bring us down with them. That is why the Bible is clear to warn us that (2 Co. 11:14) “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” We live in the in-between time. Satan and his angels have been cast forever out of heaven, but they have not yet faced the final judgement, being cast into the flames of hell. Satan, in small part, is ruling this world. And he is out to cause as much damage as he can, before he goes. “But 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!" This is the time of his temper-tantrum, if you like. And while that is great for those in heaven, it means rough times of us still left here on earth.
But that’s, in part, where the good angels, Like Gabriel, and Michael come in. They are powerful to save and protect. Probably even more than you have ever imagined. In Isaiah 37 the angel of the LORD slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in one night. In the book of Acts, chapter 5 we see an angel free Peter from prison with no more than a thought. And in Psalm 91 we are told “He will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways.” In our text from revelation we see that the good angels under their leader, Michael, have already defeated Satan and his forces. (12:7-9) “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were 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.”
And there, right there in that text, is perhaps the most important truth about angels that the devil never wants you to learn ... one that we’ve already touched upon. Angels, good or evil, for all their numbers and for all their power, are still just creatures. They are not gods. When Satan rose up against God he was not God’s equal or God’s enemy (at least not in the way most people think.) Who was sent out to face him down? Who was more than equal to his attack? Michael, another angel ... another creature. And why? Not because they are gods, but because they serve the One, Holy, Almighty God.
(Rev. 12:10-11) “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, 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 brethren 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.” For all satan’s power and followers, one simple Word can fell him. One simple Word has cast him down. The Word made flesh. The Son of God made son of man. The Lord God Almighty, made a little lower than the angels, so that He could suffer and die for the sins of the world. The blood of the Lamb, shed upon the cross to pay the debt of sin and remove the possibility of satan ever holding it over us again. The great accuser has nothing left to accuse us of. It has all been wiped away by the One who is greater than all the angels put together.
And that when all else is considered, is why we remember and celebrate the angelic hosts this day. Not because of who they are, but because of who they serve. St. Michael and All the Angels serve God night and day, proclaiming His glory in Christ to the whole world. In a world where there seems to be little hope. In a world where the devil is still throwing his final tantrum, the angels are here to point us to victorious one, Jesus Christ. Thus the white paraments and Easter banners -- any celebration of angels is a celebration of the one they serve and praise. The one we serve and praise!
For in the end, as great as the angels are, we have something even better! We know what it is to be loved and forgiven. We know the price God was willing to pay for each and every one of us. That price was never paid for the angels. Jesus Christ came to pay for MY sins, not Michael’s. He came to rescue me from sin, death, and the devil. And that is why Paul could say (1 Co. 6:3) “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life!” They very things the devil works against us here will be placed upon his head at the end. We will be the very means of his judgement. What’s more, in heaven, despite all logic, God has a throne set aside for me ... right beside each of yours. And that is something the angels will never have. Just as they did not suffer the fall into sin in the same way we humans did, their place in heaven will not be the same either. (1 Pe. 1:12) “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”
There is certainly a lot more that could be said about angels, their role in history, and their place in the future, but this will have to do for now. It is enough to know the most basic of truths and dispel some of the disturbing fallacies out there. Suffice it to say that the devil doesn't want you to believe in angels, at least not the real kind. Devils in little red suits and cherubs, as harmless as a naked babe is all that he would have you believe in. Or failing that, he would have you fear and tremble and wonder at them, praising and worshiping them as gods. Neither is right. The power and holiness angels possess is terrible and wonderful for it is from God himself. Angels are the messengers of God, and their whole being is committed to serving and praising the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through delivering this one life-giving message: (Rev. 12:10-12) "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 brethren 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. Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! … because he knows that his time is short!"