The Festival of St. Michael & All Angels – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Revelation 12:7-12
In Christ Jesus, whose death and resurrection secured your righteousness and innocence before God, dear fellow redeemed:
The section just before today’s text describes “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 12:1). She was in labor, and a huge, red, seven-headed dragon stood before her ready to devour her newborn child. A baby boy was born, but before the dragon could snatch him, he “was caught up to God and to his throne” (v. 5). The woman escaped into the wilderness to a place God prepared for her.
This story, which reads like science fiction, is the central chapter in God’s plan of salvation. It is the fulfillment of the promise God delivered to “that ancient serpent” many years earlier in the Garden of Eden: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The LORD told the devil that he would not prevail over all humanity. One would be born of a woman who would crush his head.
As the devil listened in on the angel Gabriel’s announcement to the virgin Mary, and then heard a multitude of angels herald the birth of the Christ-Child, he knew who his enemy was. He wasn’t about to take Jesus’ arrival lying down! He did all that he could to overcome Jesus and ruin His mission. He attempted to have Him destroyed by the hand of wicked King Herod who killed the baby boys of Bethlehem. He poisoned the minds of many against the gracious words Jesus spoke, and he even turned Jesus’ own dear disciples against Him.
But the incarnate Son of God was not defeated so easily. Jesus kept on the paths of righteousness. He obeyed His Father’s will. He stayed the course. He was willing to suffer the punishment for sinners. He was willing to die for their sins. “[F]or the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). And then He rose again from the dead. All the devil’s plots and plans had failed. Jesus had succeeded. His mission complete, the Father welcomed Him back to the courts of heaven to sit at His right hand.
The Father’s right hand is a position more than a local place. It is the position of all power and authority over all things. The devil doesn’t like the look of that. He thought he had humanity conquered long ago. How could it happen that a flesh and blood descendent of pitiful Adam and Eve would come to reign at God’s right hand? How could any Man rise higher than him, a magnificent, terrifying angel of the mighty God?
That’s what the devil is: an angel. He was a good angel in the beginning, perfect in every way. But he wanted to have more. He wanted to be like God. And he did not think God should favor man and woman like He did. Who were they compared to him? This bright angel-among-angels was not about to serve those inferior creatures of the earth below. So he rebelled against God and convinced a number of other angels to rebel with him.
From that point on, he established himself in opposition to God and did all he could to thwart God’s good plans. This started with his temptation of Adam and Eve, and we find another clear example in the Book of Job. Job was a faithful believer, who had been blessed by God with great riches and honor. The devil came before the LORD and argued that if God touched Job with trouble instead of blessing, Job would surely curse God to His face (Job 1:11, 2:5).
It is clear that at this time, God still allowed the devil to come before His throne in heaven and speak. There is another example of this recorded by Zechariah the prophet. Zechariah was shown “Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zec. 3:1). But this does not happen anymore. The devil no longer plays the role of prosecuting attorney at the throne of God. His arguments against our sinfulness are no longer admitted.
Today’s account from Revelation tells us when and how Satan was booted from God’s heavenly courtroom. It happened when Jesus returned to heaven in victory after His death and resurrection. He ascended into heaven where all the saints and angels received Him with rejoicing (Rev. 5). The conquering King had returned! But one thing more had to be done. The dragon had to go.
Although it sounds like brute force is what got the devil and his angels cast out of heaven, the terrifying dragon was overcome by something else. He was overcome by “the blood of the Lamb.” How could a Lamb stand up to a powerful dragon? Well that gentle Lamb was the Son of God in the flesh. The only way to silence the devil’s accusations against sinners was for the Lamb to pay for those sins. Jesus offered Himself as the spotless sacrificial Lamb in each sinner’s place and shed His holy blood to blot out all sin.
It hardly had the look of it to those who watched it happen, but there was a battle raging when Jesus went to the cross. It was not a battle among men. It was a battle against mankind’s greatest enemies: sin, devil, and death. Everyone who saw Jesus nailed to the cross thought this was His defeat. It looked like sin, devil, and death would be victorious. But oh how the tables turned! Just before His death, Jesus declared His victory, and a few days later, He proved it by rising from the dead. The death of Jesus in the place of sinners was the day the serpent’s scaly head was crushed just as God had promised so long ago that it would be.
With Christ’s heel constantly bearing down on his head, the devil’s mouth doesn’t work like it used to. Like a pancaked cartoon character, this smooth-talking liar can only mumble now. And God does not care what he has to say. With the accusation of our sin silenced by the death of Jesus for us, no accusation is allowed against us anymore. The devil can hiss “sinner!” and “failure!” and “law-breaker!” about us all he wants, but God is not listening. We are redeemed, we are reconciled, we are forgiven by the precious blood of Jesus.
His atoning blood is why Satan was forever cast out of heaven. As our text says, he was conquered “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” The “word of their testimony” is the confession of the faithful who were the target of the devil’s accusations. Now whenever the devil’s lips start moving, they point to Jesus, and there is nothing more that the lying serpent can say.
The holy angels of God have witnessed all these things. They watched the devil and other fellow angels rebel against God. They saw Adam and Eve fall into sin. They marveled as God promised to send a Savior for sinners and then carried it out by taking on their flesh to live and die in their place. What love their holy God has for mankind!
They watched as the Son of God fasted for forty days in the wilderness and as He prayed that there might be another way to save the world. They knew what was coming. They knew that the Son of God who had called them into existence had to suffer the eternal wrath of His Father for sin. They knew He had to die, but they also knew He would rise again.
The angels saw it all, and they know what it means for you. It means your salvation. Your salvation is why the chief angel Michael and other good angels fought to expel the devil and his wicked angels from heaven. Since Jesus had paid your debt of sin, there was nothing more that the fallen angels could bring against you. “[T]here was no longer any place for them in heaven.”
So “the great dragon was thrown down… and his angels were thrown down with him.” Having failed to capture the throne of heaven, they now seek to capture the hearts of men. Their focus is especially on believers. The devil will do whatever he can to make you doubt your salvation. He wants to distract you from Jesus through pleasure-seeking, worldly pursuits, and a guilty conscience. He wants to convince you that God doesn’t really love you, and that you don’t need Him anyway.
God sends His good angels to guard you from these attacks. They defend you in temptation and help to pick you up when you fall. The holy angels see everything you do, good and bad, but they do not grow weary with you. They stay committed to their mission because they are faithful to God, and God is faithful to you. No matter how much you have given way to the devil and sinned in the presence of the holy angels, they still fight for you. “Are they not all ministering spirits,” says the Bible, “sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14).
The angels of God know the truth. They Testify to Your Innocence. They will not stop serving and protecting you, because they know what the Lord accomplished for you. They know you are God’s own holy child, who stands righteous before Him by faith. Their service toward you will not cease until they bring you to join them in the blessed courts of heaven.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Festival of All Saints – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:1-12
In Christ Jesus, who has opened the kingdom of heaven to all who trust in Him alone, dear fellow redeemed:
An athlete being interviewed after a victory might say with a smile that he is blessed to have the talents he has. The family sitting around the table at Thanksgiving might list all the good things they share. And you, when you look around at your neighbors, might think to yourself how blessed they are and wish you could have the blessings that they do.
When we think about “blessedness,” we imagine happiness and good fortune and success. But that is not how Jesus speaks about it in today’s text. He says that even those who mourn and those who are persecuted are blessed. How can this be? Well which would you rather have: riches now or riches forever? joy now or joy forever? peace now or peace forever? Of course it doesn’t have to be an either/or. God often gives His children riches, joys, and peace both now and forever. But often is not always.
It can be very difficult to see the blessing in a job lost, in a relationship broken, or in the death of a family member. These things feel more like a curse to us than a blessing. We might even express as much to God. “God, why did You let me get fired?” “Why didn’t you fix my relationship?” “Why didn’t You heal my loved one?” We are troubled by the knowledge that the Lord is all-powerful, and yet does not help us in the ways we want. Is it because He is uncaring? Is it because He is punishing us for some reason?
God does not promise that we will understand the reason for every trial we experience. He does tell us that some trials are given to train us in Christian discipline, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb. 12:6). St. Paul writes that with this in mind we can even “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Whatever the reason for our trials, we remember the promise from God that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (8:28).
Everything works out for good “for those who love God.” But how can you and I know that we love God enough? If the standard is what Jesus lists today in the first part of His “Sermon on the Mount,” we have all fallen short. Jesus says that “the poor in spirit” are blessed, but we are often proud and boastful. “The meek” are blessed, but we are often self-centered and glory-seeking. “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” are blessed, but we hunger and thirst the most for earthly goods that do not last. Then there are “the merciful,” “the pure in heart,” and “the peacemakers.” It is not hard to think of where we have failed in those areas too. So if these behaviors that Jesus outlines are required for blessedness, how could we ever hope to be blessed?
On your own, you can achieve and gain things that are counted as blessings in the world. You can take a job that suits you. You can get married and have a family. You can make a good name for yourself. You can buy a house and nice things to go in it. But these are all earthly blessings. They are yours for a short time, and then they are left behind. The blessings Jesus refers to are spiritual blessings that benefit you not just here in time but on into eternity. They are blessings that you cannot get on your own. They must be given to you. And before they can be given to you, those blessings had to be won.
When Jesus presented His list of beatitudes, He knew full well that no one could perfectly live up to them. That doesn’t mean it was a waste of time to speak them. It is important for sinners to know the righteousness that God requires. It is important to be reminded that even our best efforts do not come close to what God commands. But the Bible is clear that our salvation does not depend on our own righteousness. It depends on the righteousness of Jesus.
Did Jesus meet the standard of God? Let’s see. Was He poor in spirit? Did He mourn for the lost? Was He meek? Did He hunger and thirst for righteousness? Was He merciful? Was He pure in heart? Was He a peacemaker? Was He persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Each of these beatitudes describes a different part of Jesus’ active obedience. They describe how He humbled Himself and willingly endured all sorts of injustice in His quest to save sinners. Because of His perfect life, Jesus was blessed before God and given the kingdom of heaven.
But the Son of God did not become Man to win this reward for Himself. He came to win it for you. He lived a perfect life for you so that you would inherit heaven, so that you would be comforted, so that you would receive mercy, and see God, and be called His own sons. But how do you get these blessings? How do you know they are yours? Jesus says, “Blessed… are those who hear the word of God!” (Lk. 11:28). And He says, “Blessed are those who… have believed” (Jn. 20:29). You receive the blessings of God, not by your own works or good behavior. You receive the eternal blessings of God by His Word alone and through faith alone.
Today we are remembering the members of our churches who have entered the church triumphant within the past year: Harvey, Art, Maxine, Jim, Hilda, Jean, and Vera. Adding up their ages nets a total of well over 600 years and an average of almost 90 years each. If we totaled the blessings we received from knowing them throughout their lives, it would be a very lengthy list. But the blessings they received from God are uncountable. From the time of their baptism until their dying day, the Lord poured out upon them His grace and comfort, His righteousness, forgiveness, and life – always and only through the means of grace.
The Lord does the same for you too. By His powerful Gospel, He sustains and strengthens your faith, so that the benefits of Christ’s perfect life and atoning death are continually credited to you. Through faith in Him, Jesus’ righteousness is given to you as though you had produced it yourself, and His cleansing blood is applied to you as though you had paid for your own sins.
If you lived before the Reformation, your priest probably would have told you that you must make satisfaction for your own sins. He would have also reminded you to do what you could to help the souls of the deceased get out of purgatory. How might this be done? By making pilgrimages to various holy sites and relics, by purchasing indulgences from the pope, by sponsoring private masses in the name of a loved one, and so on. But how could human works ever satisfy a person’s great spiritual debt?
The righteousness that counts before God could never come through your works. It must come through faith, faith in Jesus who accomplished everything for you. In Him you are declared to be a saint, or holy one, of God. You are counted as one who is innocent, sinless, pure. Everything God demands of you, He freely gives you. So when Jesus talks about the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers – He is describing you, because you are in Him, and He is all those things.
What this means is that you are blessed. Blessed Are You even when you mourn and suffer persecution. Blessed Are You even when everything seems to be going wrong, because “the kingdom of heaven” is yours in Christ. All of your earthly blessings can be taken away from you, but the spiritual blessings of God are eternal. This is why Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things—all you need in this life—will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33).
The Lord is not uncaring about your troubles, nor should you assume He is punishing you when something bad happens to you. If you as a Christian experienced no trouble in the sinful world, that in itself would be a cause for concern! We will have trouble here, because we are only temporary inhabitants of this world. Our true home is somewhere else. St. Paul writes, “[O]ur citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
When Jesus returns visibly in all His glory, He “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (v. 21). Then we will look like the saints that we already are in Christ. Then we will inherit the eternal blessings that we already possess but do not yet fully enjoy. Then we will live under the Lord in His heavenly kingdom, “and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (Explanation to the Second Article). What a blessing that will be!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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