In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The children come running, as they return from the vacation. Excitedly, each one wants to be the first to speak in the classroom. “Teacher, guess what I did!” “Teacher, pick me!” “You won’t believe where we went and what we got to do!”
Jesus is welcoming back His students from their field trip. His first 72 missionaries, aside from the 12 apostles, are coming back to Jesus in today’s Gospel, and they can’t wait to talk to Him! . “Teacher, guess what I did!” “Teacher, pick me!” “You won’t believe where we went and what we got to do!”
With eyes wide from amazement, they describe to Jesus how even demons submitted to them in His name. Fallen angels – Satan’s minions – evil spirits roamed about Palestine and wreaked all sorts of havoc and tormented people. Demons are still very real. But then and there, they were in a last-ditch effort to ruin Christ’s work of salvation. Demons were unleashing all they had to distract people from our Lord and His Gospel. No one else had made any headway. No one, that is, except Jesus. Our Lord Christ had cast out demons. And now, recently, His disciples were beginning to do the same – not from their own authority or power, but in the Name of Jesus!
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” How’s that for a thrill that sends chills down your spine? Satan, the old evil foe, the prince of this world, falls down. That wicked serpent who deceived our ancestor Eve, who tormented faithful Job, who set the hearts of Pharaoh, Herod, and even modern, “civilized” politicians against innocent babies, is cunning and ferocious. Yet he is powerless against the Word of Christ.
Watch yourselves, though. For often we do not encourage Satan’s fall. Sometimes we help him back up. When you shy away from admitting that the devil exists and is a threat, it actually is helpful to him. It helps him up! When you think that demons are made up stories in the Bible and deny their existence, it helps him up. When you refrain from being sustained in the Divine Service by Gospel and Sacrament, Satan is happy; it helps him up!
But for all those rebellious times, our compassionate Savior and loving Lord rescues us. He dishes out His forgiveness and mercy through His means of grace. And with every helping, Satan fall[s] like lightning from heaven!
In today’s Gospel, our Savior rejoices with these returning missionaries, giving encouragement and cheering, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” But what does He mean? When Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” is He talking about the mission that He just sent them on, or is He talking about Satan and his fellow, fallen angels being cast out after they rebelled against the Lord, before the fall of Adam and Eve? In a word, yes. But specifically, our Lord Jesus calls attention to the recent events as these men were preaching the Gospel.
You see, every time a pastor’s hand dips in that font and pours a cleansing flood over someone, Christ wins. And the devil falls down. Satan fall[s], like lightning from heaven. Every time the saving work of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, and His forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are declared to people, Satan fall[s], like lightning from heaven. Every time someone repents and comes and confesses their sin to their pastor and he absolves him, Satan fall[s], like lightning from heaven. Every time someone comes to the Holy Supper of our Lord, and receives the Holy Gift of Christ Himself, Satan fall[s], like lightning from heaven.
But as joyous as it is, to know that Satan is falling, our Lord Christ declares that we are not to spend too much time focusing on that. No. He says, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Jesus says, “Yeah. It is great that you are kicking the devil’s backside in My Name! But this is even better: You get to spend eternity in heaven with Me!” You have been called by the Gospel, enlightened with His Gifts, sanctified and kept in the true faith. You have been given new birth by Water and the Word, and continue to be nourished by His Gospel and Eucharist. Through these Gifts, Jesus is preserving you on that list, “written in heaven.”
On this Church festival of Saint Michael & All Angels, it can get easy to lose that focus. For well over a thousand years, the Holy Church has taken the 29th of September as a day to give thanks to God for His holy angels who serve and protect us. In the Lutheran Church, we sometimes transfer this celebration to a Sunday, so more people can participate in the occasion. We praise the Lord for His legions of spirit warriors who defend us from the evil one, and watch over God’s children. They do amazing work – miraculous work – that blesses us in our earthly pilgrimage, and for this it is completely appropriate to pause and thank our heavenly Father. Yet do it with the proper focus.
As the Master Teacher welcomes us to the Divine Service, we may get excited recalling the protection of guardian angels at this or that moment in life. “Teacher, pick me! I have a great story about angels!” And we remember the car accident where the police officer claims that no one should have survived, yet the baby in the car seat filled with shattered glass does not have a single scratch. Another recounts an accident where the semi’s rear bumper came to rest on the steering wheel, and one more inch would have made the crash fatal. Still others tell of moments of rescue, with no physical explanation, from tragedies, war, and violence.
Are these good to recall? Most definitely! Do angels serve and protect us? Absolutely! Should we honor them and praise the Lord for using them? Without a doubt! But should they crowd out the message of Christ? Never.
Jesus, Lord over men and angels, reminds us, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” And until we join Him there, dear friends in Christ, you can join the thrilling celebration of Satan falling like lightning. We rejoice not simply in his defeat, but knowing that his defeat is Christ’s victory! Jesus baptizing another. Jesus preaching His Gospel to another. Jesus feeding another with His Body and Blood.
Praise God! Michael and Gabriel, angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven join in this praising. Celebrate that our gracious God sends them to serve and protect His children and His Church. But even more, dear friends in Christ, rejoice that your names are written in heaven.