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The War in Heaven and the War on Earth. St. Michael and All Angels, 2017

October 16, 2017 Leave a comment

st michaelSt. Michael and All Angels

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 12:7-12 (Matthew 18:-10)

September 29, 2017

“The War in Heaven and the War on Earth”

Jesus

The terrifying picture of the devil as the dragon

 

There is a war going on around us that we cannot see.  All three readings tell us about it.  An angel came to speak to Daniel, but he was delayed because “the prince of Persia” held him up until Michael the archangel came to his aid in the battle.  Our Lord Jesus tells his disciples to be careful not to cause children who believe in Him to fall into sin, because “their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven”—which is to say that God has assigned angels to protect and guard little children—implying that the kingdom of darkness desires especially to harm children.

 

And in the reading from Revelation we see Satan depicted as a dragon with an army engaged in battle with Michael and the angels of heaven.  He wants to stay in heaven so that he can continue to accuse Christians before God “day and night.”  But he and his angels are defeated and thrown down to earth.  And St. John hears a voice that says ominously to us, 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!  (Rev. 12:12)

 

We aren’t scared of dragons, because they don’t exist.  But if they did, you would be horrified.  Dragons are huge.  They are smart.  They can usually fly and breathe flames and incinerate whole towns.  It is basically impossible for human beings to kill them.

 

Those kind of mythical beasts don’t exist, but the devil does exist.  And he is a dragon.  He is malevolent and enjoys killing people.  He takes great pleasure in murdering us.  That is what he did in the very beginning when he spoke to the woman in the form of a serpent.  He’s not content just to kill a person here and a person there, the way a human murderer does.  He opposes God’s order in creation that sustains life.  He manipulates women and incites them to murder their children.  He opposes God’s order in creating us male and female so that children are not even born, and when they are, their parents don’t care for them properly.  He causes disorder in the state so that people die through misgovernment, crime, and war.  He causes disorder in the Church so that God’s Word is not preached and inflicts spiritual death.  He wants us all exterminated, and he wants us dead not just in this world but in a death that lasts forever in the lake of fire.  And he has a great number of powerful angels under his command to carry out his war.

 

This dragon, the devil, is at war with God and his kingdom.  That means he is at war with the Holy Christian Church—with us who are baptized and believe in Christ.  Since we don’t see him, we are often asleep as this war rages around us.

 

Can you imagine being in a war with guns and bombs?  How vigilant would you be if you knew that when you let your guard down you might be picked off by a bullet from an enemy hidden somewhere you couldn’t see?  And yet this war, which is far more dangerous, rages around us.  We are never free from it as long as we are in this world.  Yet how many days go by where we are unconscious of it, and unarmed.  Not wearing the body armor of our baptism.  Not armed with our weapons, the Word of God and prayer.

 

In the text from Revelation, we see that this dragon, who is invincible as far as human beings are concerned, once carried out his warfare in heaven.  He no doubt carried out attacks on Christians on earth like he does now—attacking our health, property, good name, as well as our faith in Christ and His Word.  But he had an additional front.  He used to accuse us before God day and night.  In the book of Job, Satan appears before God and accuses Job; he says, the reason why Job loves and trusts you is that you protect him from me.  Take away his protection and let me destroy his property, his children, his health, and he will curse You to Your face.

 

Satan used to be able to accuse us before God.  He would remind God of our violations of His law, how we had not loved and trusted Him above all things, how we had failed to treat His Word as sacred, how we had not honored our parents, how we were angry and vengeful toward our neighbor, how we were unchaste, how we stole, wasted, were greedy and negligent, and harmed our neighbors’s reputation.  He would remind God of how we had earned His anger and punishment.  He would demand that God turn us over to him.

 

But Revelation tells us that Satan is no longer able to wage war against us in this way.  He has been cast down from heaven.  St. Michael and the angelic armies forcibly removed Satan from heaven.  He is not allowed in to proclaim our sins before God.

 

That is because God has been reconciled to us once and for all by the blood of the Lamb.  When Jesus was led like a sheep to be slaughtered, when His veins were opened by Roman whips and nails, and His heart was pierced by the spear in death, out with His blood drained God’s wrath against all of the seemingly bottomless evil that humans have done and that remains in our hearts.  He can no longer be stirred up to wrath against us because He is reconciled to us.  And the devil is no longer permitted to accuse us to God.  Those accusations are no longer permitted in the presence of God, because those sins have been done away by Jesus.  To bring them into God’s presence would be to deny the worth of Jesus’ suffering, and this God will not allow.

 

This is wonderful news!  The bad news, however, is that the devil has been cast down to the earth.  And he is very angry.  He is like a cornered animal.  He knows that it is only a very short time before he is cast forever into the lake of fire.  And since he cannot take his hatred and anger out on God, he vents it on God’s creation, and specifically on us—on human beings, the head of God’s creation, and particularly on the Christian Church, the people God has taken as His own out of the world.

 

The angels who defend us

 

The dragon has come down to the earth, and in a rage, seeks to have us dead, seeks above all to claim those whom God has claimed as His own in Baptism and pull them down with their white robes into the filth, shame them, hook them with his claws and carry them down into the fire forever with him.  And we can see around us the great fury with which the devil has worked to destroy the Christian Church.  We see around us a great falling away.  Worse than the empty pews, however, is the way that so many churches in which the pure word of God was once heard are now the haunts of owls and jackals.  They are ruins.  They are thrones for evil spirits.  And in many other churches the devil has not succeeded in establishing control, but his demons have a voice in the church.  His sulfurous breath competes in the air with the incense of God’s temple.  The holy angels cannot enter these churches unmolested.  They have to come in with their swords drawn.

 

With such a powerful, humanly speaking invincible enemy, we are foolish to be asleep.  But even if we were wide awake, what would we do?  We are not strong enough to kill dragons.

 

But God still sends His angels out into the world, and by their mighty power they uphold and defend God’s creation.  They uphold government so that there is peace and so that life can continue on earth.  They protect children and promote peace in the household.  And they defend the Church against the attacks of Satan so that he is not able to wipe us out like he would like to do.  With their swords drawn they carry out God’s will and deliver our lives from destruction.  They protect our property and good name, which Satan would like to destroy.  And they stay with us and guard us as we live in faith in Christ so that Satan is not allowed to harm us beyond what God allows for our growth in faith and godliness.

 

+God can do this without angels; but He uses them.  So we thank Him for them

 

+We live in our calling in faith and the angels stay with us instead of leaving us.

 

The devil is always defeated when he wars against Christians

+He is ejected from heaven and his ceaseless accusation by the blood of the lamb.  God does not permit us to be accused before Him because we have been justified by the blood of Christ.  If God permitted charges to be leveled against us, it would be to deny that our Lord Christ has “blotted out the handwriting against us” with His blood (Colossians 2).  It would be to deny that Jesus’ death had taken away our sins once and for all.  For God to accept charges against us would be to deny His Son.  This the Father will never do.  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  (Rom. 8:1, 33-34) And so, our justification is certain.  Satan is overcome and defeated by Jesus’ blood.  The saints trample him underfoot through faith in the blood of the Lamb.

+We overcome him here by the blood of the lamb, received by faith, and confessed with our  lips.

+The angels serve us here; and at our end they gather us with all the saints to rest in Christ until He returns to raise us up.

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jesus Raises Us Up In the Divine Service. Trinity 16, 2017

widow-of-nain_thumb[1].jpgThe Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Ephesians 3:13-21, Luke 7:11-17

October 1, 2017

Jesus Raises us Up: Divine Service and Scripture

 

Jesus

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (Rom. 1:16-17).  Those verses are our theme this year for the fall stewardship series as we approach the anniversary of the Reformation.

 

The Gospel has great power, even if that power is not apparent to human eyes.  That is the reason why the devil goes to great lengths to ensure that it is not heard.  Whenever it is proclaimed, God’s power goes forth against Satan’s power, both to save those who do not believe and to strengthen those who do.  If we are to continue to salvation and eternal life, if we are to have joy as we walk the road of the cross to salvation, we need the Gospel.  We need God’s power.  The place God gives the Gospel is in the Divine Service and in Scripture.

 

In the Gospel reading for today, God gives us a living picture of what the Gospel does to a person who first hears it with faith; and in the epistle reading He explains what the Gospel does for those who believe it and continue to receive it.

 

In the reading from Luke Jesus goes in to a town called Nain with His disciples.  As they come near the gate of the city, they meet a funeral procession coming toward them.  It is a funeral procession, and the body being carried out to burial is a young man, the only-begotten son of his mother, who is a widow.  It’s as if Jesus is meeting Himself and His mother.  He is moved with compassion for the grieving mother and says, “Don’t cry.” 

 

Supposedly, the rule for a Jewish teacher like Jesus was that, if they met a funeral procession, they were obliged to join it and share the grief of the bereaved.  But Jesus instead touches the coffin, and the procession stops.  Instead of mourning death with the funeral, He simply ends it.  He speaks a short command: Young man, I say to you, rise!  The man sits up in his coffin and begins to speak, and Jesus gives him back to his mother.  See the power of Jesus’ word!  He doesn’t do any magic, any elaborate ritual.  With the same simplicity with which He commanded sickness and demons and storms on the sea, He speaks to death and it releases the dead.

 

When Paul says, The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, you can picture this funeral, where Jesus simply speaks a word and the dead man sits up in his coffin.  That’s how the Gospel works; it releases those who are spiritually dead so that, all at once, they become alive to God.

As soon as a person believes that his sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who made atonement for them by His suffering and death, his sins are forgiven.  God is perfectly pleased with him.  He imputes or accounts to that person Jesus’ righteousness.  He is an heir of eternal life.  All that happens the very moment a person believes.

 

Yet we still have not taken possession of all that is His.  His kingdom is ours.  The joys of heaven are ours.  The full measure of His love is ours, and so is His glory and holiness.  But we still have to press on to take possession of these things, so that Jesus’ love, power, wisdom, and goodness become manifest in us, and so that the old sinful nature dies off.  Paul describes this in his prayer for the Ephesians: For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:13, 16-19). 

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the Gospel.

 

We forget where we are.  We deceive ourselves and let ourselves be deceived most of our lives.  We come to church and think we are taking a couple of hours away from our lives.  No!  When you come to the service of God you are taking an hour or two away from death. Death doesn’t visit you in your final hours.  Death attends your whole life.  We are all flying towards death.  Death sits at the foot of your bed with an hourglass in your final years, but he was there when you were young, too, laughing as with the sins of youth you forged the chains that would ensnare you in middle age.  He held the hourglass in his hand all the time, and the sands were always running out.

 

But that is just the death of the body.  But from the very moment you were conceived you were not just dying.  You were already dead in the real sense of the word.  Unable to hear God, unable to know Him or to have the joy of life that is truly life.  You were dead in trespasses and sins.

 

Then, one way or the other, you were brought in your lifelessness through the doors of the

Church, and you ran into Jesus with His disciples.  And Jesus had compassion.  He poured water on your head and preached the Gospel to you.  He said, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  He proclaimed to you how He paid for all your sins, giving Himself up to be crucified, to die, to be placed in the tomb, and to be raised for your justification.  And you sat up in your body of death and began to speak your first words of life in God, confessing your faith in Jesus to others and your sins to God, calling upon Him.  And the Lord gave you to your spiritual mother, the holy Christian Church, so that she would continue to care for you, and you would serve her as the widow’s son did his mother.

 

But what happened after that?

 

You found that being a Christian wasn’t easy.  You were still tempted by all kinds of evil.  And even when you wanted to do what was good and pleasing to God, you found that you fell short.  You found that you struggled to honor your parents.  Maybe you made your teachers and other authorities over you angry again and again, even when you tried to do better.  In confirmation perhaps you weren’t diligent and zealous to learn the catechism.  You were constantly tempted to impress your friends, even when that meant turning away from what pleased your Lord.  You struggled with pride, or with forgiving and loving your enemies.  You neglected prayer or were inattentive in worship.

 

It never gets any easier.  As long as we are in this world, we have the flesh, what Paul calls this body of death (Romans 7), that fights against the new man in us.  This body of death is always working to drag us back down into death, to keep us from reaching the fullness of life that God has promised us in Christ.

 

So even today when we came here today, even believers in Christ, came here with death at work in us.

 

But Jesus came here today to meet you and raise you up so that you may receive His Spirit and have strength to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  (Eph. 3:19)  Jesus has come to put death into remission in us with a word.

 

So He absolved you and loosed you of your sins from the past week and all the ones before.  Now He preaches the Gospel to you.  And in a moment He will strengthen the inner man, the man in His image, with His flesh and purify You within with His atoning blood.

 

The same compassion He had for the widow and her son motivates Him to come here and do this.  In the Small Catechism’s questions in preparation for the Lord’s Supper, Luther asks Finally, why do you wish to go to the Sacrament?  And the answer is: That I may learn to believe that Christ, out of great love, died for my sin, and also learn from Him to love God and my neighbor. 

 

Jesus comes to the Divine Service to raise you up, to put to kill the body of death that is so strong in us, to make you comprehend the height and depth of His love, to dwell in your heart through faith and manifest His power and love in you until you are fully raised to the right hand of God.

 

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the Gospel.

 

If we grasped this, how eager we would be to meet Jesus in the Divine Service!  When we have such a fight against our old nature and faith is cold and weak and temptation is so strong, this place where Christ meets us is where we find divine help in the gospel and sacraments.

 

But so often we don’t feel this help.  I am sure that someone here is thinking, “I’ve been going to church for decades, but I’ve never experienced any miraculous transformation from the Divine Service.”

 

I have experienced the same thing.  Often it is because I come to the Divine Service but neglect the Scripture during the week.  Then I am often cold and distracted during the Divine Service.  This happens because I mistakenly think that life is found in all the other things I do during the week—whether work or play—and that the Scripture and the Divine Service are interruptions of life.  They are not.  They are interruptions of the death that is at work in my body.

 

That’s how it is with me, and I am forced to go to church and read Scripture because of my calling, even if I am lazy.  But it has become common for so many of our members to come to the Divine Service once or twice a month.  To have strength to comprehend the love of Christ, to know the love of Christ in its fullness—can that happen if you are exposed to it only a few times a month?  Or even once a week?  As long as we have death at work in us, we need the power of God, the Gospel preached and read, and the Sacraments, to raise us up.  We come to know the love of Christ as we come to know Him through meditation on His Word.  This is not a chore, a job you have to do.  It is heaven—to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. 
And so if Christ is to dwell in our hearts by faith, and increasingly display His power among us, it will happen as we gladly hear His Word and grow in the knowledge of it.  Then we will also grow in our knowledge of His love.

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the GospelEven today He raises you up.  He pronounces you righteous, sinless, and an heir of eternal life.  He invites you to come with your body of death to His table and learn to know His love that surpasses knowledge, that moved Him to die for your sin.  He doesn’t hold against you the ways you have neglected His Word in the past.  He invites you to know and experience His love by reading your bible every day, by confessing your sins and being absolved, by letting the called minister of His word teach you it.

 

I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation.  Jesus’ Gospel is God’s might that gives us faith in Him and makes us alive, and it is His mighty power that strengthens us in the inner man, so that we grow to know His great love for us and reflect it in this world.

 

Oh Lord, grant us to know Your love that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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