In Jesus' Name
How many angels can you name? The Bible only names two, Michael and Gabriel. Today we celebrate St. Michael and All Angels, but this holiday, like all Church holy days, is really about Jesus. You could go to your grave never knowing the name of the angel Michael, and it wouldn't matter, but it would certainly matter if you didn't know Jesus' name. Yet angels, good and evil, are related to the name of Jesus.
In Jesus' name evil angels submit. That's what the first 72 pastors came back from their mission saying. "Lord even the demons submit to us in Your name." Demons or evil spirits are evil angels, and the Bible says virtually the same thing about them as it does about good angels. There are very many of them. They are of great power, and they are personal beings, not forces.
In our Large Catechism evil angels are credited with bringing us bodily affliction and harm, breaking men's necks, driving men to insanity, drowning some, and moving many to commit suicide. You smile at this thinking it quaint. People could believe that in the 16th century because they didn't have the lights of science, psychology, and medicine to show that there are no demons; there are no evil spirits; there are no evil angels.
Well, then Jesus too must've been wrong when He pictured evil angels as snatching the Word out of men's hearts so they didn't believe. Jesus must have been wrong when He said that Satan had bound a woman for 18 years. Jesus must've been imagining it when He spoke directly to an evil angel possessing a person. Paul must've been wrong when he said that Satan himself can appear as an angel of light and that there were doctrines of demons. Peter and Job must've been wrong when they pictured Satan roaming about the earth. And Daniel must've been wrong when he said angelic forces, good and evil, are locked in war.
You go on believing that good and evil are human constructs. You go on believing that good and evil angels are fairy tales. You go on believing that reality is no more than what you can see and possibly feel. And what you will find is what people have found in political history. If you insist on denying evil, you will end up enslaved by it. The first pastors recognized evil angels and rejoiced that in the name of Jesus they submitted to them.
This text doesn't show us that, but other places in the New Testament do. No demon was a match for Jesus. They recognized Jesus, even in His humble state, as God most high. They were drawn to him as a moth must come to a flame. Hundreds of them at one time begged Jesus for mercy. With a Word Jesus could vanquish them. With Jesus' name on their lips Peter and Paul did the same. No evil angel can withstand the name of Jesus.
Into Jesus' name we were all baptized. In Jesus' name we all pray. Whether we live or die we belong to Jesus says Paul, so in Jesus' name we live and die. So evil spirits, demons, evil angels, whatever name they go by are firmly under our feet. In Jesus' name we have the authority to trample all the power of the evil one. Let him use the demon of sickness, the evil spirit of despair, the evil angel of false teaching. None of these will harm us who are protected in Jesus' name.
Now that's a big deal, but it's not the biggest deal in this text as Jesus Himself points out. The biggest deal is that in Jesus' name our names are written in heaven. Think about that. What if you knew that your name was written in heaven, carved there in stone, etched in granite in thick, deep grooves? Well rather than rejoice that evil spirits, the bad angels, submit to you, rejoice that your names are so written in heaven.
The fact that evil angels submit to you in Jesus' name is a matter of might. Your Jesus is bigger than them. However, even among evil angels one ranks above the other. So their submission to us is not as big a deal as our salvation. Our names being written in heaven is an out and out miracle of grace. It's a leopard made spotless; it's the dead made alive; it's the damned snatched from hell; it's the impossible happening. But I can't show you what a miracle this is unless I show you just how lost you really were.
Your name was written in heaven before Jesus saved you. It was written down as the one responsible for all the commandments. And like in grade school, it was written on the board as having to do punish work. Most of you are chased around daily by the things you think you ought to get done. This is your sense of sin; that you don't do that list. How far from the real truth you are! You're little list that proves to you you're failing or worthless is nothing. God has a list with your name on it, the commandments, and not a day goes by that you do them. You feel bad because you forgot to do something on your list when you should be terrified for failing to do any of the things on God's list.
Your failure to do God's list puts you on His punish list, and I guess you don't really believe what you confess each Sunday that you not only deserve eternal punishment but temporal. Because if you did really believe that, you would be in terror of the punishment that should break in on you, your family, your life each day. The accidents, the sicknesses, the tragedies that happen every now and again, should happen every day in your life. You think your feeling bad over not meeting your standards is your punishment. Think again.
Imagine not having to think like that. Imagine knowing your name has forever been written in heaven. That's what Jesus did. First He wrote His name on the 10 Commandments list, and God checked off, done, done, done. Then He wrote His name on the punish list. The judgment, the wrath, the punishment that should break out against you for your sins was borne by Jesus. Jesus took His name and wrote it in hell in place of your name, and He took your name and wrote it in heaven in place of His. And, as I said, it's forever written there. It's a reservation. Do you expect a reputable hotel like Hilton will honor your reservation? How much more will God the Father honor reservations made in the name of Jesus His Son?
So in the name of Jesus evil angels submit to you, but even more worthy of rejoicing is that in Jesus' name your name is forever written in heaven, but even that's not all. In Jesus' name the good angels minister to you. This is not the picture the world has of angels. To the world all have the ministry of angels, but in the Bible a spirit apart from Jesus is a demon, an evil angel. Only those whose names are written in heaven in Jesus' name can claim, can count on the ministry of angels.
This is what Hebrews 1:14 teaches: angels are ministering spirits sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation. And the ones in Psalm 91 that God commands His angels to guard are those whose refuge and dwelling is the Lord. Your Baptism gives you salvation, so it's your guarantee that you have the ministry of angels. You take refuge in absolution in Jesus' name therefore you know that God's angels are guarding you. You dwell in the Lord when you eat and drink Him in Communion and are bodied and blooded to Him. Therefore, God has commanded His angels concerning you. They guard you wherever you may be in Jesus' name.
In Jesus' name the good angels are your personal police force. They serve and protect you. Don't think that they can't or won't do for you what they did for Lot, Elisha, Daniel, or Peter. Angels rescued the befuddled Lot from the certain destruction of Sodom. Angel armies surrounded Elisha so that they outnumbered the human armies sent to get him. An angel shut the mouth of lions for Daniel, and opened heavy prison doors for Peter. Why did angels do this for them? Because they were better than other people? Because they tried hard? Because they had a lot of faith? No, the angels did it all in Jesus' name.
And here is the rub in every sermon about angels and/or God's protecting care. Lot, Elisha, Daniel, and Peter all died eventually. Elisha died of an illness; Peter suffered a painful martyr's death. Where was the ministry of the angels then? Where was the serving and protecting of angels that God promises in Jesus' name? And where were the angels when your brother, sister, father, mother, child, or friend died? How come the snakes and the scorpions of the evil one got them, doesn't Jesus say here they won't?
Note carefully the promise Jesus makes. We will trample on snakes and scorpions, over all the power of the evil one, so that nothing will harm us. There is no promise that we will not die. There is no promise that we will not die in an untimely, horrible, painful way. The promise, and it is absolute in Greek, is that there is no way anything of the evil one will harm those in, with, and under the name of Jesus.
The last thing the Scriptures tell us angels do for us in Jesus' name is carry our souls to heaven. In those awful moments when life meets death and death wrenches your loved one's soul from you, don't look at it from your point of view. Look at it from theirs. I've never seen an angel, but all those who die in Jesus do. In one moment there is wretched, ugly, painful death, but that is only a moment, the twinkling of an eye, and then there's an angel's face, a face that always beholds God the Father. And do you think these departed souls being carried to heaven feel harmed, injured or wronged? Has one of them ever in thousands of years of history ever said, "No" to the angel?
In Jesus' name evil angels look different, our sins look different. Suffering, harm and even death look different in Jesus' name. That's why no matter what is happening on earth the good angels never cease to sing God's praises in heaven, and we in Jesus' name can join them here on earth. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels (20060924); Luke 10:17-20