Psalm 91 (St. Michael & All Angels 2020)
Autumn is a favorite season for many. We find relief from Summer’s heat, we enjoy the beautiful colors from turning trees, and even in the Year of our Lord 2020, we’ve managed to have football to watch on the weekends.
With these joys comes also though the realization that the sun is setting sooner each day. The cool mornings are refreshing, for a while, but the thermostat will soon creep below what may be deemed “refreshing”. Some are bothered by the cold of these coming months. But I would argue more of us are brought down by the darkness. The sun is slow to rise and far too soon to set.
God knows this about us. He’s who gave us the light of day, and even the light of the stars and moon by night. And he gives us also the light of his son Jesus. The light who shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, not even in winter.
It’s fitting then, that as we begin to enter the season of darkness, that the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Michael & all Angels. These heavenly beings are not softly dressed choir boys, as often portrayed, but they are God’s warriors. The Heavenly Host is God’s army, his military branch of Light against Satan and his demons in the darkness. These angels should fill us with courage and hope amidst the darkness of this world.
We first heard about Michael in our Old Testament reading from Daniel, during a dark time when God’s people were conquered and in exile, first by the Babylonians, and then by Persia. God spoke to Daniel in a vision that this Michael would come and deliver them from the Persians. This was some 500 years before the time of Jesus. But it was also said that this vision would refer to the latter days,
At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Many would come out of Persia and enter back into Judea, to resettle Jerusalem and rebuild God’s temple. But this was all to foreshadow a triumph still to come, centered around our Lord Jesus, the Light of the World. And we heard more about this and about Michael in our reading from Revelation.
Revelation described a war not just against earthly powers like the great Kingdom of Persia, but of Michael and his angels of light fighting against Satan and his demons. God’s army against the Devil’s. They thwarted his invasion of the heavenly gates, and threw him back down to Earth. But as mighty as Michael and his angels are warriors, they did not win simply by might, but by a battle cry of a greater event that occurred. We heard that battlecry:
“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 archangel Michael and his angels were not just fighting themselves, but for us. It was easy enough for them to trounce Satan in one-on-one combat, Light always overcomes Darkness, but these angels had to win victory for us too. The problem was that Satan had our sins to dangle before us and God.
Satan, which means Accuser, took our sins before God and demanded that God bring his righteous wrath against us too, as we indeed deserve for our sin. Satan knows he can’t defeat God’s army, but he would at least drag us down into the abyss with him as a consolation prize.
Therefore, Michael and the angels did not simply beat down Satan by might, but by a declaration. The Lamb of God was offered as a sacrifice, a payment, for all sins of all time. Jesus, the Light of the World, would face death in our place. His blood was shed on our behalf. So when Satan comes before God accusing us, thinking he has us dead in our sins, Michael brings forth the evidence freeing us sinners, He shines the Light of the World on the Prince of darkness, and his angel force toss Satan right out of God’s heavenly courtroom back down into the abyss where he belongs. The Light of Jesus shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Now, the scriptures leave us with many questions about Michael and these Angels. We’re not told much else about them besides these visions from Daniel and Revelation. An in depth study of the nature of angels will bring up more questions than it does answers. It is better, then, that we focus not on who these angels are, but on what they do for us.
Jesus spoke some about them in our Gospel reading. He warned against those who would bring temptation to “little ones”, certainly referring to children, but also to anyone new or lowly in faith. He said: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. Truly, all of the faithful are little ones to Jesus, and therefore he promises that we have angels in the presence of the Father watching over us. This is where the idea of Guardian Angels comes from.
Our Psalm today, Psalm 91, informed us even more about what Michael and his angels do specifically for us even now. Please feel free to reference the text from your worship folder. I’ll summarize, and draw out key verses.
For us who dwell in the shelter of the most high, who abide in his shadow, for us who call God our Mighty Fortress, as we’ll sing robustly next month on Reformation Day. To us his faithful, God says: that he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
Being snared by a fowler might be a strange metaphor for us today, but dealing with pestilence is most certainly not. I read to you the note from our Lutheran Study Bible. Pestilence: A general term for illness and deadly diseases. At it’s worst, the pestilence is an epidemic. We know about pestilence. Perhaps it’s not deadly for all, but there is no small number of our congregation who are watching me through a camera right now rather than from a pew because of a certain pestilence. The rest of us may not be as in much danger, but the effects of this pestilence has taken a toll on all of our lives. [I’ll say more on this in a bit, but we will be delivered from it.]
Continuing on in our Psalm, God will cover us with his pinions, that is, his feathers, under his wings we’ll find refuge. God himself is not said to have feathers or wings, but his Angels watching over us do. With them watching over us, we will not fear the terror of night, not even the long dark of winter, not even if it brings greater and more deadly pestilence upon us.
Even if terror or pestilence claims a thousand lives, even 10,000 lives around us, it will not terrify us. Because we have made the Lord our dwelling place, that is, our tent, then no evil or plague can touch us in God’s care.
And this is how and why:
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
Recall how Satan tried to tempt Jesus with these words, how he could jump off the top of the temple and the Angels would save him, and Jesus responded that we ought not to put God to the test. It’s funny that Satan didn’t quote the next verse, that these angels would help us crush and trample the serpent, yes even the Devil, under our feet. These Angels by the Blood of Christ have the power to cast down Satan. These are the angels who guard us!
This Psalm then closes with God saying about each of his faithful:
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Now, though God promises us to deliver us by his angels, we must still face death in this life. For some, it may even come by the pestilence of COVID-19. In this congregation, we lost our brother Gerald Nolker to it. But in the refuge Gerald had in Christ, he has not been lost at all.
Even if death should claim more of us here at Concordia, or if it has claimed other family or friends, be sure that for God’s faithful, Micahel and his Angels will deliver our souls up to Jesus. The Blood of the Lamb has purified us all before our Father. Satan can accuse us day and night with our past sins, he can weigh us down with guilt and darkness and shame, but Christ’s death covers our guilty sins, and his light brightens our darkness and shame.
It is by the Blood of the Lamb that Michael and His Angels, that is to say, our Angels, have thrown down Satan and his Demons. That same Blood of the Lamb is poured out for you here today on this altar. Let it strengthen you in Body and Soul to life everlasting. For our faithful members watching from home, please contact me if it is safe and if you would like for me to bring the Body and Blood the Lamb to you there.
I urge you all who are in the pews this morning to be thinking, praying for, and in any way caring for those who are watching from the refuge of their homes. Make phone calls, write letters, support in any way you can those who are suffering right now.
The season of darkness may be coming, the darkness of a virus may be lingering, but the Light of Jesus our Lamb shines in the darkness, with Michael and his Angels watching over, and the darkness will not overcome us.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.