Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2015

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost | Matthew 18: 1-11


What in the world are angels for?

Well, it’s all in the name, angel (ἄγγελος). Angels are, quite literally, messengers. The archangel Gabriel seems to specialize in bringing Good News. He tells Zechariah that even in his advanced age, his wife would bear a son who would himself prepare the way for the Messiah (Luke 1). Months later, he gets to tell Mary that very same Messiah is on the way! Gabriel speaks, the Holy Spirit works, the Virgin Mother hears, the Christ is made flesh. And nine months later, a choir of angels gets to shout the Good News to a group of shepherds; also providing an easy-to-remember, Gospely line for your kids to recite at the Christmas pageant. But angels aren’t only there for good news in good times.

In the darkest of times, when things could not be worse, the angels have been sent to provide comfort, even to Jesus. They protected Him in His infancy as Herod sought His death. They ministered to Him after He endured Satan’s temptation in the wilderness; perhaps even giving Him food, as they did for Elijah (2 Kings 19). They came to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He prayed in agony, and there they ministered to Him.

Even that doesn’t round out their resume: for God has also sent His holy angels into war. That’s what the seraph of Isaiah 6 means when calling Him LORD God of Sabaoth (צְבָא֑וֹת); that He is the leader of angelic armies, the heavenly host – armies who go out into battle to fight for God’s people. We don’t often think of the angels as being prepped for violence, but sometimes the angels had to send a message the same way the mafia sends a message – when someone needed to be made an example of.

Today one more task is added to their list of duties. Jesus says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Simply put, the same angels who speak, encourage, and sometimes fight, are also charged to watch over the little ones, keeping one eye on them, and one eye on their Father in heaven. What a great job! With one eye set on us, and one eye in heaven, imagine all they see!

They see you at home with your children, reading them God’s Word and teaching them the Catechism. They see you bringing your kids to church and Bible Study every week, despite all the other distractions and things that fight for your attention. They see you providing the best examples for them by the way you love your neighbor, the way you are constant in prayer, and the way you make Jesus Christ Crucified known in word and deed. That’s what the angels see…isn’t it? Because anything less than that is to despise the little children.

This might be a good time to remember that Satan is also an angel; and so he gets to watch, too. And more often that not, what he sees you do and leave undone delights him greatly; because it means he gets to accuse you of your sin, and sneer at God the Father saying, “See?! See what they really are?! See how they love you?! There is no hope for them. Leave them to me.”

And if God employed our own view of justice, He would do just that. Jesus wasn’t being inventive when he mentioned a millstone being fastened to one’s neck and cast into the sea. His hearers would have recognized that as the imperial punishment for treason, it is betrayl. And despising the little children is just that. It is the kind of thing that makes angels want to break out swords and spears and millstones and avenge God’s Name – but remember that is not their task at present; they are quite busy watching: one eye on the kids, one eye on heaven. And you can imagine what they see:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev. 12:7-9)

The same angels who witness our shame, witness our glory and triumph. They have seen Michael and His host battling Satan, fastening a millstone to his neck, and casting him down to the depths. As Jesus Christ did battle on the cross, your victory was won; your accuser was cast down, and is now awaiting his sentence on the last day.

The angels, like you, now do battle with words: with the proclamation of the Gospel. For they also have the honor of proclaiming the resurrection! It is, after all, an angel who gets to come throw the stone aside and speaks to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. (Matthew 28:5-6)

And so if the battle is now fought with words, then the battleground is no longer in heaven, but in your ears. Know this: that Satan, whose time is short, will try to accuse you for your betrayal; his words  will get in your ears and name your sins, and bid you to share in his judgment. But the angels and the heavenly host speak a Word that is bigger and better and greater and louder. A Word that drowns out accusations:

“And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them!” (Revelation 12:10-11)

Satan has been conquered by the Blood of the Lamb – the Lamb who has taken your betrayal and given you His faithfulness; the Lamb who has taken the place of the accuser in the heavenly courtroom, and now speaks well of you.

I suppose there is one last task we see the angels carry out in Holy Scripture, and it may be the most amazing. It’s described for us richly in the book of the Prophet Isaiah, when the LORD called him into His service.

“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

Come now to Christ’s altar, the place where He lay, to be touched by Holy Things: His Body and Blood, once offered as the atoning sacrifice for sin, now given to you as gift. Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.

+To the Lord Jesus Christ, by the prayers of His Saints and the ministry of His Holy Angels, be all Glory, now and forever. Amen.+

About Pastor Hopkins

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