This Sunday is quite special. Each year, on the 29th of September, the festival of Saint Michael and All Angels is celebrated by the Church. It is a festival that has significant connections to Christ and his work, and so, when that day occurs on a Sunday, it takes over the readings and the other ‘details’.
The Gospel text makes the point that some angels see the face of God (Matthew 18:10). That particular characteristic makes those angels quite special. Both the Old Testament and the Epistle texts mention Michael, an archangel. His name means, ‘Who is like God’. In both texts, he plays a major role. Some people see him as Jesus.
The Epistle text is from the book of Revelation [12:7-12]. It speaks of a great war in heaven, ‘Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon (verse 7).’ The dragon—the devil, Satan—was defeated. In the words of the text, ‘he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (verse 9).’
We usually do not have such a focus on the devil. Usually the scriptures focus on Jesus! Martin Luther noticed this and has some helpful words of advice regarding this particular enemy.
"When, I say, [Satan] comes to you and accuses you not only of failing to do anything good but of transgressing against the Law of God, then you must say: ‘You are troubling me with the memory of past sins; in addition, you have told me that I have not done anything good. This does not concern me. For if I either trusted in my performance of good works or lost my trust because I failed to perform them, in either case Christ would be of no avail to me. Therefore whether you base your objection to me on my sins or on my good works, I do not care; for I put both of them out of sight and depend only on the freedom for which Christ has set me free (American Edition, Volume 27, page 11; this quotation is also found in The Lutheran Study Bible)."
The devil is real. And the solution Luther proposes is also very real. You might say that it is ‘down to earth’.
The concrete reality of that goodness may also be found in the Lord’s Prayer. I brought that up recently, that the middle word (usually translated as ‘daily’) is significant, but it is a word that we truly do not know what it means; it has no previous history. Since it is in the prayer, and since it is in that important middle spot, it significantly changes our perspective of the rest of that prayer. The rest of the prayer brings up negative things—this is unusual since a Hebrew structure has the negative part at the beginning—but since there is also the combination of God the Father’s significant involvement and, therefore, his gracious presence, the negative things that are brought up are not really that bad.
When trespasses are forgiven, that is a ‘sign’ (to use Luther’s word) of our Father’s gracious, giving presence. God must present, doing a miracle, since only God can truly forgive. (See what Martin Luther says in his Large Catechism for more detail.)
I have also mentioned recently that the Roman Catholic Church has changed the wording about the petition for the Father not leading us into temptation. Martin Luther gets the Small Catechism right when he says that God tempts no one. The main point is similar to what is above, that if the Father is leading, that type of action is significant, and that also shows his gracious presence.
The final petition is to deliver us from evil. Luther saw this petition as a summary. And the gracious presence of the Father is certainly confessed with the action of deliverance, and this is essentially salvation.
That gracious reality is dependent upon a gracious God. And in the Book of Revelation, that gracious God is often seen on his throne. That is also where Jesus, the Lamb, is. And his four living creatures, his main angels, are around that throne.
That brings up another interesting aspect of Revelation, the placement of the four living creatures when they are first mentioned. In Revelation 4:6, the ESV translation reads like this: ‘And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures…..’ The NIV translation, surprisingly, is much more literal: ‘In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures… (this is also close to the NASB translation).’
People obviously have discussed this phrase for a long time, and therefore, some translations try to interpret the meaning of the text. How can the four living creatures be in the center of and around the throne at the same time?
How about the following answer: In the Old Testament, sometimes an angel acted like God and did a miracle, either a supernatural act or a supernatural prediction. And sometimes the people who saw that angel said that they saw God. What made them say that, we obviously do not know—and we cannot interview them now. And also sometimes, the Second Person of the Trinity acted like an angel, a messenger. He certainly was a messenger in the New Testament. Jesus, the messenger, delivered salvation to his people. What a great gift.