Don't Give Up Angels
I grew up surrounded by angels. I was told my dad drove non-stop from California to Michigan to see my mom and that he woke up once to find himself sitting in the passenger seat and an angel driving the car. My mom told me that as many corners as I could find in a room that's how many angels there were in it. Babies smiled and dogs' eyes wandered across the room because they could see angels. The Church wants you too to have the comfort of being surrounded by angels. Since the 400s, September 29 has been celebrated as St. Michael and All Angels Day. Luther retained this festival on his Church calendar. I've been celebrating it since 1985 even when September 29 didn't fall on a Sunday, but then, as I said, I grew up surrounded by angels, and I don't want to give them up.
People give up angels because they outgrow them, but angels aren't like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. They're not childish things to be put away as you grow. They're powerful beings created by God. There are a fixed number of them; God isn't creating any more. Contrary to Hollywood, people don't earn their wings or become angels when they die. Though their numbers are finite, there are far more than you can count. Scripture says there are 10,000 x 10,000 and thousands of thousands. This translates the Greek word myriad which in the singular is 10,000, but in the plural means a number that can't be counted.
I don't know how many angels there are, but there are enough for each of us to have a guardian angel. Psalm 91 describes the care of angels as personal. They guard individuals. Matthew 18 speaks of children having their angels. Dr. Deffner, a now sainted professor of the Ft. Wayne seminary, said in a 1995 Lutheran Witness article that he gave a name to his guardian angel.
Don't become too big for angels. Don't think you need them only so long as you're a child. An adult Lot needed to be taken from Sodom by angels; an adult Elisha was rescued by angels from the Assyrians; an adult Peter was freed by an angel from prison, and God the Son was strengthened by an angel in Gethsemane. If you could see what you're really up against each day, you'd religiously pray Luther's Morning and Evening prayers which ask, the Father to "Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me." Luther prayed that way morning and night because he believed, "If our dear God were not guarding us through His angels and we were able to see the devil's cunning, conspiring, and lying, we should die of the sight of it alone, so many are the cannons and guns he has ranged against us" (AE, 51, 206).
Don't outgrow angels. Don't have such an "adult" view of reality that you only believe in what you see. Scripture tells you that we are not to focus on the things we can see but the at the things we can't see because the things we see are temporary while the things we can't see are eternal. What keeps cars from colliding, people from falling, disaster from striking is not the laws of physics you can prove in a lab but angels pushing cars apart, holding people up, and turning blowing winds. Ah, but that's what bothers you. It's not that you've outgrown angels; it's that angels don't seem strong enough.
The Rolling Stones have won at last. Their plea for people to have "Sympathy for the Devil" has come to past. The devil is depicted as all powerful. Evil is usually not decisively defeated in horror movies but lives to terrorize another day. Angels are like Clarence in "It's A Wonderful Life," stumbling, bumbling but nice. Nice but not powerful enough. Hey, bad things do happen to angelically protected people. Those 19th century angel pictures show kids being protected by big, strong guardian angels, but kids do die, accidents do happen even to people, parents, and kids who prayed that morning, "Let Thy holy angel be with me." What about that?
Yes, what about that? We can only say what the Scriptures do. Evil angels, devils, stand under us in the name of Christ. Christ says, "The spirits submit to you." That's both good and bad angels. In the name of Christ, the good angels minister to us. In the name of Christ, the evil angels submit. Furthermore, God promises that angels, good or bad, can't separate us "from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." And Jesus says that in Him we have the power to overcome all the power of enemy and nothing will harm us.
Angels are indeed powerful enough to protect us from any and all harm. When disaster does strike, when accidents do happen, when children do die, it's not because the good angels weren't strong enough or the bad angels carried the day. It's because the Lord had His angels stand down, stand by even as they did at other crucial moments in the lives of God's people. Good angels were in Eden when Satan slithered in; good angels were there when the great wind swooped down on Job's children killing them all; good angels were there when Jesus was arrested, and they watched Him die on the cross. Good angels are always around us, but they don't always act. But their failure to act will never harm us promises Jesus.
Hard to get your head around this, isn't it? How can angels be so strong yet do nothing when God's people are threatened? How can Jesus say no power of the evil one will harm us when we get sick, have accidents and die? But failing to understand isn't the real problem. Lots of doctrines in the Bible baffle our understanding. Do you understand the virgin birth, the dead rising, Jesus giving us His Body and Blood in Bread and Wine? Still we celebrate Christmas, Easter and Communion. Why then do we trip over angels? Because it's impossible to rely on and rejoice in angels when we feel like such devils. That's the bottom line. There are times when we feel too big for angels, and there are times when angels not acting bother us, but the real reason we give up angels is our sins.
How can I be sure the angels are on my side? How can I know that an angel won't fail to act in order to pay me back for my sins? Thoughts like these deny Satan was ever cast out of heaven by Christ. Satan is the great accuser; he never gives you a moments rest from your sins. Sometimes you hear his voice from the lips of others. Sometimes you hear it from inside your own head. "You should've done this and not done that. Look what you did. What about this?" He doesn't let up. He doesn't grow tired. He doesn't run out of things to accuse you of. Some days he hounds you from dawn to dusk. You wake up hearing his accusations and as you're laying your head on your pillow at night Satan is beside your ear rattling off even more accusations as your head goes down.
This is what Satan does. The problem is that you think Satan is still in heaven before the throne of God accusing you day and night even as he did before Jesus suffered and died for your sins. But he's not. Jesus overcame Satan and threw him out of heaven. Satan had a place in heaven because of two things. God's holy Law and our many sins.
Just like anyone can bring charges against another person based on the law of the land because the law gives them standing, so God's Law gave Satan standing in God's holy heaven. We did break God's laws. We were guilty. But then Jesus came, born under the Law, to keep the Law in our place. Romans says Christ is the end of the Law for everyone that believes. If Christ kept all Laws, what can Satan accuse us of in God's court? What standing does Satan have in God's court if He can't appeal to the Law anymore?
Well, what about our sins? Satan still has standing before God if our sins need to be paid for, punished. "You must punish them; you've gotta punish them," Satan could say. But Galatians answers, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us." Our sins cried out to God to punish them severely, eternally, and Satan rode those cries to heaven. But those cries were silenced once God put on Christ all our sins, the pride, the lust, the greed, the very deeds of shame and evil we've done, thought and said. God required every last jot and tittle of the Law from the Body and Blood of His only Son. Satan can't stand before God demanding you pay for sins that Christ has already paid for anymore than a store can demand you pay again for what has already been paid for once.
Satan has been cast out of heaven and where does it say he now is? He's down here on earth, and just what do you think he's doing here? We think he's here derailing trains, causing cars to collide, giving people illness, and devouring children. Sure Satan is involved in every evil there is, but it's interesting that Peter describes him not as a doing lion but as roaring lion. Satan's down here doing what he once did in heaven: accusing. The real evil Satan seeks to cause is an evil conscience that can't see the perfect life Christ led in your place but only your imperfect one. A conscience so evil that the blood of Christ doesn't seem enough to pay for your sins.
But dear friends, the harm the Lord Jesus guarantees you protection from, the power of the evil one the Lord Jesus promises you overcome is Satan and all of his accusations. Satan and his incessant accusing do not and cannot rob you of your salvation. Satan can't make dirty what God for Christ's sake has declared clean. Satan can't make a person guilty whom God declares forgiven in Christ. Christians get sick, have accidents, and die, but Christ has delivered them from the power of the evil one to make them guilty. He can harm our body alright, but he cannot harm our souls.
You are to rely on the protection of God's angels. Your are to joyfully each day commend yourself to their holy hands, not because you've never sinned or won't sin that day, but because you've overcome sin and Satan by the blood of the Lamb of God. You've been marked with His blood. It's on your head in Baptism; it's in your ears through Absolution, and it's in your body through Communion. Marked by the blood of Jesus the good angels know you belong to Him and so are at your service.
Satan and his evil angels also know you belong to Jesus, and that's the point they attack. They urge you to believe that when bad things happen it's to pay for sins or because Jesus has abandoned you because of your sins. But doesn't the blood of Jesus says otherwise? His blood on you says your sins are all forgiven. His blood in you says He can't leave you or forsake you; He's your blood Brother. Nothing that befalls you in life or even in death can break this connection. So tell me; what real harm can sin, devil, and even death do? The real harm comes not when devils plot or angels standby but when we doubt that our names have been written in heaven in the Blood of Jesus. You'll find the bolder, brighter, and thicker you see your name in heaven written in Jesus' blood the more comfort you'll take in angels no matter how old you are or how weak they sometimes seem. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels (9-28-03), Rev. 12:7-12, Luke 10:17-20