SCRIPTURES – 2 Kings 6:8-17; Acts 5:17-20; Matt. 1:18-25
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6
Today, September 29, is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. It is a day set aside to rejoice in the work of God’s holy angels and to thank Him for sending them to minister to us. We have somewhat unusual Scripture readings for this celebration. I mean, it may not be too early for advertisers to speak about Christmas – I saw a Christmas shopping commercial 2 weeks ago already on TV! – but it’s certainly rather early to hear in church about the birth of Jesus. I specifically chose these readings, however, because of what they teach us about the presence and ministry of angels.
What are angels? The Bible tells us that they are great and mighty spirit-beings who are servants of God and His people. As spirits they have no physical form, but when God sends them to help us they often assume a physical form. Usually it is of a human being, but sometimes they appear as an animal. Ezekiel even saw them as wheels covered with eyes! (Ezek. 1:15-21) Elisha and his servant saw them as “horses and chariots of fire.”
We see in today’s readings that angels are defenders of God’s people. They defend us from the evil that is without – evil people and forces that threaten us – and they defend us from the evil that is within us, our sinful desires and mistaken understandings and the harm they would cause.
Picture it this way. When it comes to danger from without, God’s holy angels are surrounding you and standing between you and the danger. They are a wall of protection. But, when it comes to the danger within – our sinful desires, the temptation to selfishness and the avoidance of difficulties – God’s holy angels stand behind you so that they might push you forward to follow God’s will.
In this fallen world that is filled with sinful people, and so with the denial of the Triune God and the rejection of His teaching, we are confronted every day with evil and danger. Sometimes the dangers are great and obvious, as they were for Elisha and his servant, who were surrounded by the Syrian army.
- I am reminded of this when I’m sitting in line up with the cops in Norwalk, as on the wall is a large picture of an angel holding in his arms an officer who is hurt.
Members of our armed forces and of law enforcement need the protection of God’s angels. Pray for this! But, for most of us the dangers that confront us are much smaller and more hidden – although, they may be just as deadly.
- Imagine going to the pharmacy for medicine and coming home with pills that had been tampered with. That happened 31 years ago on this date, as a young girl in Chicago was the first of seven to die after taking Tylenol that had been laced with cyanide. The evil person who did this has never been found.
There are many evils, and evil people, in this world. How we need God’s great and mighty angels to be a wall of protection around us! And, they are. They are “His ministers who do His will,” Ps. 103 proclaims. His will is that they minister to you who have put your trust in Jesus. Johann Gerhard, a Lutheran pastor in Germany in the 1600’s who survived the plague and many other travails, said in a sermon he preached on this Feast Day:
“What is the angels’ attitude toward men? This the Lord Christ reveals with one word when [in Matt. 18:10] He calls them “their angels,” that is, the angels of the little ones, the servants of the children and all believers… They render this service to every Christian in manifold ways. While we are children, God assigns our angels to us, as Christ tells us in the holy Gospel. When we grow older and walk in the ways of our calling, God also assigns angels to us (Ps. 91:11-12). When we sleep, the angels watch and protect us against the devil. When we die, they carry our soul to [heaven] (Luke 16:22). Their protection is ours through life…”
This service and protection of the angels is mostly hidden, of course, for many evils still befall us in this life. Because of this we cry out. We are tempted to doubt their presence, or to think that perhaps they are not helping because we are too sinful and lowly. When such doubts arise we must pray as did Elisha, “O Lord, please open [our] eyes that [we] may see!” Consider what Pastor Gerhard said in his sermon of so long ago:
“Why is it that the angels readily serve the believers even though they are much nobler and higher than we?... God’s will is that they serve us (Heb. 1:14)… What wonder that the angels serve us, since the Son of God, the Lord of the angels, came to earth that He might serve us? Because love is pure and perfect in them the angels joyfully serve us, as does the Lord, who Himself is Love (1 John 4:8), in whose image the angels were created... Finally, because we shall one day be with them in heaven and join their choir in praising God, the angels are happy to serve us here on earth.”
Thanks be to God for their service to us! Rejoice in that service and never doubt it!
But, also realize this: the main focus of God’s angels is Christ’s focus. His desire is that the good news of forgiveness and eternal life in His name go forth and be proclaimed to all people. His angels, then, protect and save so that the Gospel might go forth. We see this in the reading from Acts 5. After the angel opens the prison and frees the apostles, who had been arrested for teaching about Jesus in the temple, he tells them: “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” He sends them right back into trouble! The angels stand behind every one of us believers in Jesus to push us forward.
Where can you expect God’s angel to push you? Well, he will push you to turn away from sin and do what honors Christ.
- As we see with Joseph, who intended to divorce Mary because he did not believe her story that her pregnancy was a miracle, the work of the Holy Spirit. The angel of the Lord told him to take Mary as his wife, and Joseph, being a just man and a faithful believer, did so, even though much hardship would follow.
It may be God’s holy angel who brings to your mind a passage or teaching from the Bible when you are tempted to do wrong. After all, they “hearken to His Word” Psalm 103 says. Of course they will bring His Word of Life to our minds and hearts! Give thanks to God when they do so, for they are turning you away from sin.
They may also push us to people who need to hear “the words of this Life,” of the forgiveness and eternal life that is ours in Christ. Be ready to speak of the hope that you have in Christ! As you do so you serve with the angels as one of them, as a messenger and minister of Jesus.
As we rejoice in the presence of Christ’s holy angels around us and with us and as we receive the blessing of their service, let us go forth as they go forth: to humbly serve. Pastor Gerhard points out:
“Angels are the noblest creatures, yet are not ashamed to serve little children too. They are perfectly pure, and among men none is wholly clean of sins, yet they are not ashamed to render service unto us. How, then, can a man comfort himself with the protection of the angels and desire their service if he will not serve others in love and humility? Pride is the devil’s seed. Let all who wish the angels to live with them beware of pride, and let it not take root in their hearts.”
Amen! May God help us through Christ to receive their ministry and humbly serve as they serve!