Monday, September 30, 2013

Sermon on Revelation 12:7-12, for the Feast of St. Michael and all angels, "Angels: Ministering Servants"

Sermon Outline:
1.      C.S. Lewis: two equal and opposite errors that can occur with regard to demons (fallen angels)--  1) disbelieving in their existence or 2) to believe, but have an unhealthy fascination. They are happy with either error--the first allows them to do their work unnoticed--the second because our focus lands on them, instead of God. Lewis referred to demons, but I think we could easily borrow his point to talk about the good angels as well. Same two easy errors: 1) disbelieve or 2) excessive fascination. On the one hand we would be ignorant of their protection or duty. But especially with the 2nd, how do we teach about them, but not lose focus of God, who is of greatest importance? Angels too are conscious of this problem--infrequent appearances in Bible--have the effect of frightening humans because of their brilliant shining appearance--quick to add in many cases “do not fear!” or “Don’t be afraid!” When humans fall down to worship them, like John did in awe, in the book of Revelation, they always correct the human and redirect their praise back to God. God alone rightly receives our worship, and the angels are quick to point the spotlight away from them and back to God. In some ways its good then that we don’t know too much, so that we don’t become obsessed--but we’ll review some of what we do know.
2.      Sometimes the angels are described figuratively like the stars in the heavens, as in Job 38, where the creation of the world is being described poetically, and it talks about how “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”--referring to the angels celebrating God’s creation. The morning star (Venus, for example) can be brilliant in its light--the brightest in the night sky after the moon--but it is never long before its brightness is extinguished by the greater light of the sun. So also the angels in their brilliance often stunned mere men--but they always give way to the infinitely greater brilliance of God’s Son, who is the “sun of righteousness” who rises to the full height of the sky, His glory extinguishes or outshines all their lesser splendor. Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” We are drawn to the brightness and glory of Christ, not that of the angels.
3.      OT reading even says the wise, and those who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever. Great honor, and yet our light is always inferior to the brilliance and infinitely surpassing light and glory of Christ.
4.      The word “angel” has come to almost exclusively to mean in our minds, the created, immortal spirits that we readily think of. But the word in both OT & NT is broader and simply means “messenger.” Used of humans, fallen spirits, the heavenly beings that are God’s messengers, and even of the Son of God. “Angel” or “messenger” simply describes an office or duties. The Bible defines these heavenly beings as “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). That’s what they do.
5.      Can be carrying good news, as they often do: “Fear not!” but also can be carrying warnings or messages of judgment, as the angel who warned the prophet Balaam about his “fool’s errand” of cursing the Israelites. Especially in the New Testament they attend to and highlight major events along the way with Christ accomplishing salvation--i.e. conception, birth, temptation, Garden of Gethsemane, resurrection, ascension, etc. Their work is closely tied to the work of salvation. They are not the ones doing the saving--that is Christ’s work alone-- remember how He forsook the help of angels to rescue Him from arrest and trial? But 1 Peter 1 tells us that concerning God’s work of salvation, not only the prophets of old, but even the angels as well, as God’s messengers “longed to look” into these things. They were eager to witness and discover how God’s of salvation would unfold. I believe therefore it was no artificial display of joy, but genuine thrill and exultation when the angels sang out in the heavens, as they announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds—for here was the world’s salvation, born in human flesh as a little child!
6.      Who they are--they are spirits--that is a separate kind of creature from humans. Popular myth: humans become angels when they die--not true! We remain humans on both sides of eternity. Having soul AND body sets humans apart from the angels. Dying and going to heaven doesn’t mean that we become bodiless spirits. Rather, we wait for the resurrection of our bodies on the last day, when  Angels can appear in human form, but have no true body.
7.      Turn to our reading from Revelation: festival of St. Michael and all angels—highlights the work of angels, and the triumph in heaven when Michael and the remaining good angels, who were faithful to the Lord God threw the devil and the angels who rebelled with him, out of heaven. Origin of good and bad angels (demons). Glimpse of the spiritual warfare that is daily going on behind the scenes of our ordinary live. Just peel back the edges a little and peek behind the corners to recognize the spiritual forces at work in this world, and realize that our enemies and our battle are not against flesh and blood—namely fellow humans—but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
8.      But the far greater point to notice, as the Son starts to rise and His glory eclipses all the angels and archangels, is that proclamation, that message of the loud voice in heaven. The proclamation of the devil’s defeat and God’s victory! “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.” The power and victory of the angels and of believers against Satan, that old, evil foe, is the power of Christ and the blood of the Lamb!
9.      Jesus’ blood shed on the cross is the conquering victory over the devil! His innocent blood and death is death’s demise, and His authority is unconquerable. The good news, the good message, is that Jesus’ cross is the victory in the clash between good and evil. The good news is that the devil, the accuser, has been thrown down, and can no longer accuse us of sins. We have been ransomed by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb, and His blood stands in our defense! In Christ, you stand forgiven, innocent of whatever the devil might charge against you—because Jesus has taken those sins and wrongs to His cross and paid the full price for them. The devil has no place in heaven and his accusations fall flat against the cross of Christ, who has answered for them all.
10.  So as we remember the work of the angels, we can give thanks to God for the service of the angels, but may we never lose sight of the fact that they serve for the sake of those who are to inherit the salvation that Jesus Christ has secured and won for us. God sends His angels to guard and protect us, but all salvation, power, glory, and might belongs to God and to the Lamb. To Him be glory forever and ever, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      What are two opposite errors that we can fall into concerning belief in angels and/or demons? How do angels in the Bible turn human attention from themselves back to God? Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9; Matthew 4:10-11; Colossians 2:18.
2.      How are the angels described as having a brilliant splendor to their appearance, but also completely outshined by Jesus Christ? Job 38:4-7; Judges 13:6; Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78; Isaiah 60:13-, 19-20 (note also that not all appearances of angels to men occur with a terrifying brightness—some appearances are in normal human form; cf. Hebrews 13:2).
3.      The title “angel” is broader in its use (both OT & NT) than what we usually think of as an angelic being. The Old Testament word “malak” simply means messenger, and the New Testament word “angelos” means the same, and can apply both to human, divine, and even impersonal messengers. “Malachi”—the name of the last prophet in the OT canon, means “My Messenger” (malak). 2 Samuel 2:5; Luke 7:24; Malachi 3:1; 2 Corinthians 12:7; cf. Genesis 32:1-2; Luke 2:9ff.
4.      When we refer to angels more narrowly, as God’s “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14), we must recognize that they are a separate order of created beings, apart from humans. Consult the following Bible passages for descriptions/characteristics of angels: Psalm 103:20; 2 Peter 2:11; Luke 20:36; 1 Peter 1:10-12; Daniel 7:10; Psalm 91:11-12; 2 Peter 2:4 (fallen angels).

5.      Revelation 12 recounts the fall of the devil and the evil angels (demons) from heaven, and the spiritual warfare that took place. What was the power by which Michael and the good angels triumphed over Satan and threw them down? Revelation 12:10-11. How is it the security and power of the saints also against the assaults of the devil? 

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