Skip to main content

The God of Angel Armies

This is the sermon I preached on Michael and All Angels, Sunday, 9/29/19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Luke 10:17-20.

Since the fifth century, there has been a festival dedicated to the honor of the archangel Michael. The focus of the day has broadened to include thanksgiving for all the angels, seen as messengers of the word and will of God. On this festival day, we hear about demons, Satan falling from heaven, the “power of the enemy,” and the submission of spirits. There is a whole realm of spiritual beings that is assumed. In this case, those related to evil. The other lessons for today speak about Michael and the other angels in this other realm.

This gospel text begins and ends with joy. It is joy that characterized the disciples’ experience. Their joy foreshadows the joy they’d experience at the resurrection (24:41, 52).

The phrase “in your name,” used by the seventy, indicates the sphere of authority for their work of exorcism. It also signifies their genuine identification with Jesus.

But who is this Satan Jesus talks about? He is God’s supernatural enemy, the chief of the diabolic forces opposed to God’s purpose. In Isaiah, we’re told that his claim to glory and allegiance mandated his fall (14:13). His minions were described as “snakes and scorpions.” In Luke, the enemy is identified as the cosmic power of evil resident and active behind all forms of opposition to God and God’s people (Green).

When Jesus speaks of Satan’s fall, he uses a simile “as lightening.” Does lightning fall from heaven just once in a storm? It is an event that has many “falls.” Did Satan’s complete “fall” occur at that time? Is Jesus still seeing Satan fall in our ministries in his name? I believe he does.

But our gospel also relates to angels, since the basic meaning of the word from both Hebrew and Greek is “messenger.” These disciples had been sent out as “messengers,” “angels.” The kind of authority Jesus gave his disciples was such that it was even greater than that of the demons.

Are you wondering if Jesus is talking about literal snakes and scorpions? Not really. Snakes and scorpions are examples of the hostility in the creation that is defeated by Jesus. Their images represent the power of evil in prophetic and apocalyptic writings in the Old and New Testaments. The use of battle imagery shows who the kingdom fights against.

And I wonder, what are we to make of Jesus’ words to the disciples that nothing would hurt them. That “nothing” is absolute. It’s an emphatic double negative in the Greek text. In scripture and history, we see examples of God’s people being delivered from evil forces and people. However, we also see those who were martyred for their faith. But Jesus said, “Nothing will hurt you” (v. 19). Another way that phrase can be translated is “In nothing will he [the enemy] hurt you.” This clarifies things a bit since Jesus and the disciples were subject to physical injury through persecution, even though they may have been protected from Satan’s power. This does not mean that God’s people would not suffer and die or struggle with various issues. What it does mean is that God would be with them through it and that God’s messengers, the angels, would be with them. From the perspective of the cross and resurrection, we can say that death, in all its forms, will not have the last word.

The verb for “joy” is present tense imperative, meaning, “Continue to rejoice” or “Keep on rejoicing.” This implies an ongoing, rather than a momentary attitude. Joy, however, can be misplaced. It is not to be based on the authority Jesus gave them over evil spirits or the miracles they had performed. The power the disciples experienced, after all, was not their own but was because they were sent out in the power and authority of Jesus. Their joy was to be based upon their relationship with heaven, where their names had been written. Because of the tense of the Greek for “written” stressing a present reality of that which was a completed action, we might say their names were etched in heavenly stone.

Now I have to admit, it is pretty cool when God fights for us and we are delivered from dangerous situations. However, relationship with the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of us all, is where true joy was to be found.

German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, commissioned his students in the underground church to go forth into the Third Reich and proclaim the gospel while facing the possibility of death. He distinguished between cheap grace and costly grace, the grace truly from Christ. Cheap grace, he said, expects endless pleasantness and is unwilling to confront powers and principalities. True grace knows the cross is part of life in Christ.

Are there snakes and scorpions in the church today? Can they be interpreted as people, times and experiences that confront us as Christians? Scorpions may look with their eyes, but sting with their tails. And snakes seem sly and cunning as they slither around. This may be a helpful metaphor for the bad things that challenge our lives. Jesus has given authority over the power of the enemy, yet we feel vulnerable and even doubt that we have any power. When God takes hold of us and doesn’t let go, in spite of our doubts and fears, we’re surprised. When in the face of scorpions and snakes, the experience of the deep love of God strengthens and empowers us over and over, we slowly begin to trust that God is able. In this strange passage, we see a glimmer of a powerful God who has come down to walk with us, to love us, to carry us when we need to be carried, and even to write our names in heaven.

I had a similar experience in my last year of ministry in Portville. The church could no longer afford a full-time pastor and I had to discern if I was to stay there part-time or move on to somewhere else. Most of the people were wonderful and I was torn. The council president had made the previous pastor’s life miserable and he was working hard to do the same with mine. This impacted Ray and me and our relationship as well. I was feeling forlorn and I cried a lot. Then there was a song that kept playing on the Christian radio station that wouldn’t leave my thoughts. Over and over these words would go through my head:

“I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side
The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side.”

(Songwriters: Chris Tomlin / Ed Cash / Scott Cash. Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies) lyrics © Music Services, Inc.)

After much praying and crying and wondering, God gave us an answer…and here we are. I still had to go through this difficult time. God wouldn’t take me over it or around it. What carried me through was knowing that God and his angels were surrounding me. God was carrying me when I couldn’t walk. Even in the middle of the awfulness, way down deep, was joy. Someone was fighting for me.

This form of salvation—deliverance from the power of darkness, of Satan is prominent in Acts. We also find this in Luther’s writings. In The Small Catechism, concerning the gifts or benefits of baptism, Martin Luther writes, “[baptism] brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare.”

In the midst of the dark times, we go through individually, as a family, church or nation; we are not alone. We are surrounded by God and God’s army of angels. In Ephesians, Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

For us today, the story of the seventy must be our story, as our faith community joins those continually sent out by Jesus. Like the seventy, God goes with us and gives us the gospel of peace. There will be snakes and scorpions along the way, but there will also be people to heal and believers to baptize. We may risk the condemnation of friends, neighbors and family for a just cause. And we may sacrifice material well-being for our principles. But “[we] know who goes before [us], [we] know who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by [our] side.”

And what God has done for us in Christ is cause for great joy! Amen!

Mary Miller Brueggemann, Mary Hinkle Shore, Feasting on the Gospels: Luke, Volume 1
Joel B. Green, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Luke
New English Translation, notes
Gail Ramshaw,
Nancy Rockwell,
Brian Stoffregen,
Robert Tannehill, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke


Popular posts from this blog

Dancing with the Trinity

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Trinity Sunday, 6/16/19. The text was John 16:12-15.
This is Holy Trinity Sunday. What comes to mind when you think of the Trinity—questions, confusion, a puzzle, a mystery? It seems to me that just when you think you have a bit of understanding, it all starts to unravel as you think of something else. This is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around. For centuries, the early church struggled with a right and proper interpretation and understanding as they formulated the doctrine of the Trinity.
The more I read, the more I see the wisdom of Dr. Jerry Christianson who taught The Early Church and its Creeds my first year of seminary. He explained the Trinity as a love relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as God is all about relationship, so too the Christian life is all about relationship: our relationship with God, our relationship with each other and our relationship with our community.
John’s gosp…

Come To The Light To Become The Light

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, Jan. 6, Epiphany at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The gospel text is Matthew 2:1-12
Now, this is a story we know. We’ve seen the scene of the wise men bringing gifts to Jesus so many times in so many pageants. Epiphany is a time when we celebrate the in-breaking of God’s light in God’s way. The Magi are drawn from the east to come and pay homage to the Christ child. There are many theories as to who the magi were: from Zoroastrian priests to astrologers to magicians to kings, while some believe that the Magi were simply a literary device utilized by Matthew. They may have been any or all of the above, but the point is that they were foreigners and gentile outsiders and yet, God spoke to them through a star, through the light and they followed that light. 
Unusual astral phenomena were associated with the birth of a new ruler according to pagans of the time. There were Jewish traditions as well connecting the hoped-for Messiah to the “star out of…

Thanks Jesus

This is the reflection that will be sent out to the people of St. Timothy this Thursday. This is not an easy text of scripture with which to grapple and I would like to hear your insights. Let's dialogue!

Gospel: Luke 21:5-19
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
  7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
  9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earth…