Putting Angels in their Place
September 29, the festival of St. Michael and All Angels dates to the 400s. On this day a church was dedicated named after Michael, the only archangel named in Scripture. Martin Luther kept this festival on the church calendar in order that people might be taught what Scripture has to say about angels. We keep this festival because there is so much attention paid to angels in our day that it's important for us to put angels in their proper place.
The proper place for angels is in your life. They're always there. They hover around us right now; they surround your homes at night. They are at the store, at school, work, in the car, and wherever else you may be. Just because you can't see them doesn't mean they aren't there. There are a lot more angels than you dare imagine. You think there may be 1 or 2 of them following you around. It's true the Scriptures do know of individual guardian angels following us around, but they also know of large numbers of angels in general. When angels were sent to protect Elisha, they filled the hills around the city where he was. Revelation 5:11 says there are "myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands of angels." A myriad is the number 10,000, but when it's plural it means an unlimited number. Myriads of myriads is an unimaginable number.
The proper place of angels is in your life - all over your life because there are so many of them. And you should see these angels as radically affecting your daily life because they are very powerful. Psalm 103 says that the angels "excel in strength." II Kings tells us one angel slaughtered 185,000 Assyrian warriors. He didn't do this with a wave of a hand or the blink of an eye. No, he waded out into the ranks of Assyrian warriors and started swinging and slashing and killing. When angels fight they do so with flaming swords, burning chariots and horses of fire. Angels are in your life pushing speeding cars away from one another, holding up trees that are about to blow down, turning burglars away from your home, and deflecting lightening bolts from your property.
Not only are there more angels than you can possibly imagine, they have more power that you dare to dream. But guess what? All I've said about the good angels is also true of the evil angels or demons. Evil angels are also of great number though Revelation gives you the impression they aren't as numerous as the good ones. But they do have the same superhuman power as the good angels. Look at the destruction they worked in the life of Job; look how they sow weeds in the grainfields of the Lord; look how they are able to snatch the Word out of the hearts of men so they are not able to believe; look how they torment people in the New Testament.
Angels both good and bad are in your life. And whatever good or bad happens in your life you should attribute to the ministry of the good angels or the mischief of the evil ones. That's what Luther taught. He said, "Whatever evil happens comes, to a far greater, extent from them [the evil angels] than from those whom we can see with our eyes." And, "If anything good happens, it is brought about entirely through the good angels." Luther went on to say that it was the heathen who didn't recognize evil as coming from evil angels or protection as coming from good angels. Instead the heathen spoke of "luck."
Friends, it's not bad luck that causes cars to collide; it's not good luck that causes them to miss. In both cases it is angels. It is not "coincidence" when good things come together or "chance" when evil things do, it is angels. Do not let the gambling industry lead you into the unbelieving notion that luck, chance and fortune determine what happens to you in life: Scripture says angels do. But that is not comforting to you, is it? If we were only talking about one kind of angel, it would be. But both the good and the evil angels are many and powerful, and they both have tremendous power to affect your life. The only way this will be a comfort to you is if you put both good and evil angels in their proper place, and that place is not only in your life but under your feet.
Our text made this clear in regard to evil angels, didn't it? "Even the demons submit to us," the 72 disciples said after returning from preparing the way for Jesus. And John says, "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." And James promises, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." As many and as powerful as evil angels are, they're no match for Christians. We have the ability to "trample on" them according to our text. The idea of the Greek word is a heedlessness which admits no limits. We have the authority to mistreat, to abuse, to plunder the evil angels; they're wet noodles in our hands.
The good angels too belong under our feet. We don't worship good angels. When St. John mistakenly does that in the Book of Revelation, he is told rather sharply not to. When we die we don't go to heaven and become angels. That would be a step down for us because the Scriptures tell us that angels are "ministering spirits" to us and that in heaven we will judge the angels. No, the fact of the matter is, as Psalm 91 beautifully portrays it, the good angels guard us in all our ways watching even our feet so that we don't stub a toe.
While it is true that there are many good and evil angels and they are so powerful that they effect everything in our life, it is not true that we are at their mercy. No, their proper place is in our life but under our feet, and when I say "our" feet I mean specifically and only the feet of Christians because it is only in the name of Christ that the angels are under our feet.
Christ is the "Commander of the army of the Lord" that Joshua came face to face with before the battle of Jericho. We know this is Christ because He commands Joshua to take off his sandals saying that the ground where Joshua is standing is holy. In our regular Sunday Communion liturgy we sing about this too. We sing in the Sanctus, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth." Sabaoth is the Hebrew word meaning "hosts" or "armies." Jesus is the Lord of all angelic armies.
Hebrews 1 calls angels ministering spirits. But to whom does it say they minister? To "those who will inherit salvation." Psalm 91, the one that talks about the angels guarding us and keeping even our toes safe, says they do this because the Lord "commands His angels concerning you." Check your Scriptures on this. You'll find angels in service to believers only. They strengthen, defend, lead, comfort, and at the last carry believers to heaven. For the sake of Christ these numerous, powerful, angelic beings are to be placed underneath our feet.
That's probably easy for you to believe concerning good angels, but it's also true concerning the bad angels. They too submit to us in the name of Jesus. At the name of Jesus every knee must bow whether above the earth, on the earth or even under the earth says St. Paul. In our text, Christ gives us authority to trample, to shake like a rag doll, all the power of the enemy with the result that nothing will harm us.
How can this be? Wasn't the woman whose back was bowed by Satan for 18 years harmed? Wasn't Job whose family was wiped out, livestock stolen, and body attacked harmed by the evil angels that set themselves against him? Wasn't Peter harmed when Satan decided to sift him like wheat? And are not we harmed when our cars do collide, our bodies are diseased, and our homes are robbed or struck by lightening?
What do the Scriptures consider harmful to a person? Physical affliction, property loss, even loss of life? No Scripture calls these things "light, momentary afflictions, not worthy to be compared with our eternal salvation." The only thing Scripture considers harmful is the loss of salvation, to be separated from God's love for us in Christ. And what does Paul tell us specifically about that and angels? He tells us in Romans 8 that he is convinced that not even angels "shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." No number of evil angels can undo the atonement; not even the most powerful evil angel can water down the Blood of Christ that covers our sins.
Even evil, demonic angels do only the Lord's bidding. He had to give permission for demons to afflict Job as well as for one to be a lying spirit to deceive Ahab. Satan had to ask to sift Peter as wheat. When an angel of death destroyed 70,000 Israelites with plague and a band of evil angels came against Egypt, they didn't do so on their own. The Lord keeps evil angels on chains, in dungeons according to II Peter; they go only as far as the Lord allows them. They can never go so far as to harm eternally those whom their Master, Christ is saving. They may afflict, may torment, may hurt us, but the cross of Christ is like a stake in the ground to which they are tied. They can't lunge as far as our eternal salvation.
This is important to remember. The proper place of angels is not only in your life and under your feet, it's also under your salvation. Do not become so attracted, so fixated, so enthralled with angels, good or bad, that they become more of an interest or a wonder to you than your own salvation. Jesus says plainly, "Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Jesus uses the word "spirits" rather than the word "demons" to show He's speaking about both good and evil angels. Neither good nor evil angels warrant the attention or the joy that your eternal salvation does.
Contrast this with what people normally do. They love to talk about angels, to dwell on angels and what they do, but the Gospel is yawned at. It's too easy, too simple. People would rather talk about superhuman angels than the God who became a lowly, weak, Man. They would rather talk about angels living gloriously in heaven than about Jesus dying miserably on earth for sinners. But Jesus says rather than rejoicing in spirits submitting to you rejoice that your names are, and always will be, written in heaven.
By saying it the way He does, Jesus is pointing to the eternal security of your salvation. Your name has been and is forever written in heaven. It cannot be erased come hell or high water, come angels or devils. The ministry of the angels, however, is not that certain. It is certain that the angels do minister to you, but it is not certain how, when, where. It can feel at times that the good angels surround you; at other times it can feel that you've been handed over to the evil angels. It is just not certain what God has going on in this unseen realm of angels. So don't look there. Look instead to your eternal salvation, your name having been written from eternity in heaven in the very blood of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt what's going on there.
What Christ is doing is also the focus of the angels. The evil angels, as we see in Scripture, cannot help but be attracted to Him, and the good angels glory in what He does. Good angels are always where He is. They were there at His birth, at His Resurrection, and at His Ascension. And they're here today where He is; when He absolves a sinner, they rejoice; they are here when He baptizes a baby ready to take charge of another little heir of salvation. And they are here when Christ descends once more from His throne in heaven to our altar here on earth. The angels and archangels and all the company of heaven rejoice at what's going on in Communion.
Put angels in their place. Put them in your life; put them under your feet, but most of all put them under your salvation. Both good and evil angels serve your salvation, but they do it from behind the scenes so as not to block your view of Christ. Amen