St. Michael and All Angels – Revelation 12:7-12
Our Revelation text today shows us that there is a very real spiritual war in heaven and on earth. Today we celebrate St. Michael and his angels winning the war in the heavenly realms and creating peace there. The devil no longer accuses us before God’s throne. But, the devil and his horde of demons have come down to earth in wrath and battles with all Christians, including you! I imagine if God opened our eyes to what’s going on spiritually around us, we’d all just curl up in a ball and quit. St. John talks about how Christians prevail against the devil: “They have conquered [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (v. 11)
So, what does it mean to conquer the devil by the blood of Jesus and the word of your testimony?
Let’s look at them in reverse order. The word for testimony here is the word we get “martyr” from. Martyr is typically the name we give to those who died because of their Christian faith. Martyr technically means to bear witness. This name was especially reserved for those who died because of their Christian faith. I’m sure there’s more martyrs in this sense of martyr across time and the world than there are in all the national cemeteries put together. And we are closer, or we should be closer, to our Christian brothers and sisters than our fellow Americans. We rightly honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. How much more should we honor those who have died for Christ?
But you too are a martyr. That is, you bear witness to Christ. Now the original witnesses were the eyewitnesses, also known as the apostles. I love how St. John puts it in his first epistle: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us.” (1 John 1:3) This is why we call our faith the apostolic faith. We merely believe the testimony of the apostles. And then we, in turn, bear witness of that apostolic witness to others. And the Holy Spirit works faith when and where He wills through your testimony. (John 3:8, Romans 10:17)
Your testimony really boils down to two questions: 1) Who do you say Jesus is?, and 2) What has Jesus done? The second question is answered in the Bible. From the moment of creation, we read of Jesus’ involvement in His creation. He was there before the beginning of creation as the Word of God. His incarnation was foretold in Genesis 3:15 as God promised He would send His Son to save the world from sin, death, and the devil. Most of the time you see the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, He is the pre-incarnate Christ ministering to His people. In the prophets, His coming is foretold time and again. Four eyewitness accounts were written of His earthly ministry where He won that victory over sin, death, and the devil. Then the rest of the New Testament shows us how Jesus is present with us in faith, in His preached Word, and in His Sacraments. All over the New Testament, you see the warning that Jesus is coming again to consummate a new heavens and earth filled with only His people. Even unbelievers can understand that these things are taught in Scripture. Now they may not believe them or believe the Scriptures are authoritative but, if they read it seriously, they can see the basics of what Jesus has done.
So, why is it important to know what Jesus has done?
Let me ask this same kind of thing in a different way. Is it important to know your spouse?
Or even another way, if Jesus is God and your creator and sustainer, why wouldn’t you want to know everything you could about Him?
If many unbelievers know the basics of Scripture, how much more important is it for us to know the contents of Scripture? Now don’t answer out loud, but if I say John 6, what, if anything, comes to your mind? How about an easier one? If I say John 3, what comes to mind? If you know what’s in those chapters, that’s fantastic, but I’m pretty sure I could name off some chapters in the Bible you wouldn’t know. I know there’s definitely many chapters I cannot picture in my mind. We really should get to the point where we can give a summary of every chapter of the Bible.
Consider this analogy. One of the things that sets great athletes apart from others is their mastery and continual work on the basics. For us, the basics is the Bible and the Small Catechism. I’m reading an interesting book right now called “The Innovation Delusion: How our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most.” It’s a really great book and touches on something that I think about with Concordia Publishing House. All publishers seem to live or die on whether they put out new content or not. You really don’t need a lot of new content when it comes to Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, CPH puts out a lot of great content, but they really put out a lot of bad content as well to try and stay fresh. Well, what publication matters most for the Christian? Absolutely, hands down, it’s the Bible. On top of that, you could add the Small Catechism and even the rest of our confessions found in the Book of Concord. You might even add our hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book. If you have these, you have everything you need for your Christian walk. It’s also nice to have some resources to help you understand the historical, cultural, and geographical details of the Bible. But if you have a good study Bible, like The Lutheran Study Bible, you really have all you need for these helpful cultural details. And furthermore, I obviously love books. Sometimes a book comes along, like those found in the Roger & JoAnn lending library, that really help you see something in Scripture better and that is a great thing. But first and foremost, you need to know the Scriptures themselves!
C.S. Lewis wrote an introduction to an old church writing by St. Athanasius called “On the Incarnation.” In it is this famous quote: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” C.S. Lewis included Bible books as “old” books. I think that’s a pretty good rule to structure your reading habits around. Even if you fail, like I often do, it’s not bad to have it in mind to read more “old” books. Regardless of your reading habits, let us all rededicate ourselves to reading and knowing Scripture more and more.
The first question of “Who do you say Jesus is?” is only revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that Simon Peter didn’t come up with the perfect answer of Jesus as Messiah himself, but it was revealed to him by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 16:15-17) St. Paul says no one can say, “Jesus is Lord!” except through the power of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3) As you already know, Paul means the confession that Jesus is God. And also, as you already know, the Holy Spirit only works through the Word and Sacraments. Which takes us back to knowing Scripture.
There is a third question that finishes our meditation on how Christians defeat the devil and his horde of demons: How does the saving work of Jesus get applied to me? In other words, how does the blood of Jesus get applied to me? How am I saved by the blood of Jesus as the Revelation puts it?
I know you know the answer, but let’s look at Revelation 7:14 where the angel tells St. John who the multitude gathered before the throne of God is: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (7:14) The “great tribulation” is the time from when Jesus ascended into heaven until He comes again in glory. We also call it the age of the church. Christians have always been persecuted, to a lesser or greater degree, since Jesus ascended. We will continue to be persecuted until our Lord returns. Maybe some of you will die in the same way as the famous martyrs of old. But, probably, most of us will die pretty boring deaths. But regardless of how we die physically, if we die in the Lord then it is gain for us!
Can you imagine washing a garment in blood and it coming out white? This is the Bible’s picture of baptism. God uses water and His Word to apply the life-giving, cleansing blood of Jesus to His people. Or as Jesus puts it, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16a) In other words, Baptism is a BIG deal! That doesn’t mean “believing” isn’t a big deal. It certainly is. But the application of water and the Word is just as big, if not bigger, than faith. And since both are gifts from the Holy Spirit, they are both big deals! That is why we remember our baptisms daily. And that doesn’t mean just once a day. It’s one of those things that’s meant to strengthen us when we are facing tribulation.
The result of the Word and Baptism and believing is that you love not your life even unto death. This sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? In your own strength, you could never be this brave. But, it’s long been my thought that the Holy Spirit will provide you strength if you are ever in a position to be martyred. I came to this conclusion from Luke 21 when Jesus is preparing His apostles for their own tribulation:
12 … They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for My name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:12-19)
Now this certainly applies to the apostles whom met grizzly deaths except for John. But John’s life was no picnic either. But if Jesus provided His Holy Spirit for His apostles, He will surely provide Him for you in your tribulations. We don’t know what’s in store for us, but we do know that Jesus and His Holy Spirit will not abandon us.
Today, we indeed celebrate St. Michael and all angels. The angels do important work serving God and us as we learn in Hebrews. But we are warned not to inquire too deeply into the nature of angels. We are told just enough so that we know we have God’s help in the spiritual realm. Today, we really celebrate that we too will be counted among the multitude who washed their robes white in the Lamb’s blood. We don’t look to the spiritual realm to know that our salvation is certain, but we look to our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In Him, there is certainty amidst any kind of tribulation. May God strengthen your certainty of His saving grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen!
 On the Incarnation, Saint Athanasius, C.S. Lewis preface, pg. 12