The following sermon was preached by Dr Thomas Korcok in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the divine service observing the Festival of St Michael and All Angels, 29 September 2020.
On a recent list of “ultra-edgy” baby names, it was suggest that would-be parents consider the following names: Asa, Ajax, Valor, Quartz, Dax, Indigo, Snow, Pilot, Wren, Juniper, Eleven, Ocean, and even Odin. One could only imagine the pleasure it brings to parents to introduce their son named after a Norse god who plucked out one of his own eyes, slaughtered and dismembered his hermaphrodite parent, and carried around a bloodied severed head which he would talk to and which would occasionally provide him with life advice. In spite of that, I am sure that most parents would not consider it inappropriate to name their baby after such a violent god. Few parents think about what a name actually means or what it says.
Time was that names were chosen to identify the family to whom you belonged. If my father was John, then my first born son was to be called John so as to identify the lineage. Names announced “This is my family. This is who I belong to.”
In the reading for St. Michael and all angels there are several names that are used that teach about the nature of Christian warfare and our hope for victory. One of those names is “the Devil” which means “accuser,” and another is “Satan” which means “slanderer.” Scripture says “a great dragon was cast out, the Serpent of old called the Devil and Satan.” The text refers to him as the great dragon and the serpent of old. We Christians dare not take his work lightly or pretend he doesn’t exist. Sometimes he works in manifest ways, but most often he would rather work in a stealthy way. Scripture warns us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And how does he devour people? It is with lies. It was with lies that he first spoke to our parents in the garden using the beguiling words, “Did God really say…” It was a line that worked so well that he continues to use it today. He accuses us of our sins, our faults, and our weaknesses. “Did God really say you are his own dear child? Did God really say you have been forgiven? Surely not for a sin as wretched as you commit.” Yes he is the Devil, the accuser of us. He is also called Satan, the great slanderer. He slandered God in the Garden by telling our parents that God was deceiving them and that they should instead trust him, the Father of All Lies. He says, “You are enemies of God” when God says “You are my children.” He says “You are guilty” when God says “You are forgiven.” He says “You had better get to work and fix yourself. Use your righteousness to be more Christian” when God says “Look to the righteousness of Christ alone and let him the object of your faith.” Oh we know that. We know the correct doctrine and yet when the accusations and slander come, what do we say? “I’m going to try harder. I’ll change my habits to resist him. I’ll spend more time in prayer, more time reading the Bible. Maybe if I go take the Sacrament more often then I will be strong enough to resist him” as though the sacrament was some magical talisman that, if worn properly, would endow me with super human qualities to resist the devil. Such resolve rarely yields any favourable results.
There is another name in the Scripture reading. “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought.” Michael: it literally means “Who is like God” And this is none other than the eternal Son of God. You see, Michael is not some effeminate cherub who has rosy cheeks, a pair of wings and a chubby bottom like you see on Christmas cards. Michael is the Angel of the Lord. He is fierce. He is powerful. He speaks for God. This is the Angel of the Lord who spoke to Abraham and to Moses. This is the angel who took away the sin of the high priest Joshua. This is the angel who led the battle against Satan, defeating him and casting him out of heaven, and it is he, who with the incarnation, was given the name which is above every name. The name of Jesus.
Scripture tells us “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.” Now, do you think that the Holy Ghost inspired John the Evangelist to write down these words so that we could have some primeval history lesson about the goings on in the heavens? No! The Holy Spirit tells us this so that what we can place the cross in its proper context. You see, at the Cross was the finale of the great battle that began in primeval history, and both times it ended in the defeat of Satan. It is kind of like WWI and WWII. Many historians now look at those two events as part of the same war with a 20 year truce in between. Both times the Allies won, and Germany lost, but with WWII the defeat was total, the surrender unconditional, and the victory complete.
What bearing does this have on us? Well when it comes to the devil vs. Michael, the devil always loses. He lost in the heavenly battle, and his defeat was cemented, finalized, made complete when the Lord Jesus, your brother by rebirth, announced “It is finished.” With this in mind, do you possibly think that this mighty Angel of the Lord will leave you on your own to fight Satan with your own wit and wile? By no means! He fights our battles for us, and if that weren’t enough, he also sends a whole host of angels to watch over and defend us.
So what should you say to the accuser, the slander when he comes your way? You tell him what family you belong to. You tell him that Jesus, the mighty Angel of the Lord from of old is your brother. You tell him that you are a Christian, baptized in Holy Baptism, washed in the blood of the Lamb. You tell him that the name you have been given is the same as the One who cast him out of heaven and crushed his miserable head at the cross.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you (Psalm 91:7).