The following sermon was preached by Dr Thomas Winger in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the divine service for the festival of St Michael and All Angels, 29 September 2016.
Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ: There are three things that God doesn’t need the angels to do for Him.
Number one: He doesn’t need angelic armies to fight His battles. Nowhere is this made more clear than at the Exodus. God beats back the Egyptians with ten plagues. God Himself passes through the land of Egypt to strike down the firstborn in every household. His people Israel carry no weapons when they march forth from Egypt. And when Pharaoh’s troops pursue them, we see no battle of armies with God’s people rescued at the last moment by an angelic cavalry. Rather, God acts alone. He lures Pharaoh’s troops into an ambush at the Sea of Reeds. And as they approach, God announces to Israel:
13 Do not fear, stand firm, and see the salvation of YHWH, which He will work for you today. For those whom you see today, the Egyptians, you shall never see them again for ever. 14 YHWH will fight for you, and you yourselves are to be silent. (Ex. 14:13-14)
Just stand back and watch, He says! And when it’s accomplished, God will point back to that mighty event and say that His right hand won them the victory. And yet …. There’s our reading from Revelation (12:7-12). God could have bared His mighty right arm and swept Satan’s rebellious hosts from heaven like brushing crumbs from the dinner table. But instead He launched His angelic shock troops, with Michael at their head. In a primordial cosmic conflagration, God’s army defeated the devil and cast him with his fallen angels down from the heavenly heights. God didn’t need to use His angels, but He did.
Number two: The word “angel” means messenger. But God doesn’t need angelic messengers to bridge the divide between heaven and earth. Once again we see this in Exodus. God spoke to Moses face to face on Mt Sinai. He thundered and the people below heard His voice. He gave Moses instructions to erect a Tent of Meeting in the midst of His people. And from that Tent God would speak (Ex. 29:42). Moses would hear His voice from the throne-like space above the ark of the covenant. God needed no angel to carry His Word. And yet …. Time after time God sends His angels to speak for Him, from the first promise to ancient Abraham that Sarah would bear a son to the greater fulfilments of that promise when Gabriel appeared to Joseph and Mary to proclaim the Messiah’s conception. God sent hosts of angels to fill the sky and proclaim Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the fields. He sent angels to John to reveal the mysteries of heaven and the coming age in his great Revelation. Still, God doesn’t need the angels to speak for Him. And nowhere in the New Testament is this more evident than in the same John’s Gospel, where angels never once utter a word. For in his thinking, Jesus alone is God’s Word to the world.
Number three: God doesn’t need the angels to worship Him. Oh, of course, this is perhaps their greatest joy and duty. From Psalms to Revelation the angels are pictured in their glorious myriads, surrounding God with their constant praises like swarms around the queen bee. In every moment not occupied with battles or earthly missions for the saints, this is what they do. “Bless the Lord, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word” (Ps. 103:20), cries the psalmist. “Praise Him, all His angels; praise Him, all His hosts!” (Ps. 148:2). This is what “YHWH Sabbaoth” means, the Lord God surrounded by His hosts. When John is given His blessed vision of heaven above and sees God seated in glory on His throne, He writes:
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:11-12)
This is what they do, and it will be what they do when Christ returns in glory (Mt. 25:31), appearing in the sky surrounded by His adoring angels, terrifying the ungodly and giving blessed relief to His saints in the great tribulation. And yet, God doesn’t need their worship. He’s glorious without them. He’s the one eternal God who needs no one but Himself.
There are three things that God doesn’t need from you and me. God doesn’t need us to fight for Him. This is often the hardest thing for us to accept when we look at the decline of our society into immorality and godless rebellion, when we see our churches torn in two by false teachings and unfaithful practices, when we see empty pews and offering plates. But God is perfectly able to fight these battles for Himself. In fact, He has fought them and won. He won the only battle that matters in His Son Jesus, who as the greater Michael defeated the devil, triumphed over death, and brought us with Him into eternal life. And God offers us the protection of Christ’s armour, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of His righteousness, the short sword of His Word, and asks us just to stand firm and let Him fight for us.
And God doesn’t need us to speak for Him. God is perfectly capable of redeeming His chosen ones in this world without our help. His Spirit works when and where He wills. God can speak from a cloud or from an ass’s mouth. But, of course, He preferred to come in person. He took on human flesh and a human mouth. In Jesus He preached to those far off and those who were near. Jesus showed mankind the gracious face of God, He spoke the forgiveness of sins, and gave courage and faith to those who heard Him.
And God doesn’t need our worship. Is He a hungry God who needs to be fed morning and night with the flesh and blood of goats and bulls? Does He need sheaves of wheat and libations of wine? No, He wants nothing more than a repentant heart, a faith that’s willing to be given to, thanksgiving for His gifts, and a humble willingness to call upon Him in our every need (Ps. 50:7-15). And unlike any pagan god of human imagination, God made the greatest act of worship Himself, when in human flesh He offered up His own body and blood on the cross to atone for our rebellion, and then placed that flesh and blood on a banquet table for us. God doesn’t need our worship. But we surely need Him.
Isn’t this the way with true love? I didn’t marry my wife because I needed her to cook and clean for me, to prepare my meals, to stare at me in starry-eyed adoration. I married her because I wanted to express my love to her. And I accept her love in return, I treasure her baking and her little gifts and her conversation not because I need them but because I want them. And so God shows His love to His angels and to us not because He needs to but because He wants to. Like a father who takes great delight in watching his children do something that he could do far better himself, God rejoices to send His angels into battle for Him. He created and equipped and led them. Their victory is His victory, but it pleases Him to let them do it. And so He sends them to care for us. They do battle at our side against the evil Foe’s forces when we can neither hear nor see them. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Ps. 34:7). He appoints His angels to comfort, protect, and serve each one of His children. He sends His angels to support the preaching of His Word. As His messengers they continue to work in every church through God’s ministers, as the seven angels of the seven churches in John’s Revelation imply. And like planting professional singers into each section of an amateur choir, God seeds our feeble worship with His heavenly worshippers, filling the empty seats, surrounding us and uplifting our puny voices with their majestic praise. And so God is delighted with their worship … and with ours.
For what’s true of the angels is true also of us. He wants us to be His children not because He needs us to do something for Him, but simply because He wants to show us His love. And while He certainly doesn’t need you or me to fight for Him or preach for Him or worship Him, He’s pleased nonetheless to use us as His “synergists” (I Thess. 3:2). We can’t and won’t succeed at these tasks because we’re talented or smart or pious or brave. But as the Father that He is, God is overjoyed when we His children join Him in His work. When we’re called to battle, He supports us by sending holy angels to our side. When we’re called to praise Him, He adds their glorious voices to ours in divine harmony. He forgives us for the way we fall short of how He could do it Himself. And He accepts our works and worship for the sake of the perfect service of His Son Jesus Christ, who leads us today from this altar, with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven to laud and magnify His glorious name. Amen