In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lord is taking you on a hike through the mountains. Here in Chicago, that is not so easy to envision. We are blessed with large, open stretches of flat ground on which this city is built. Still, this week and next we will hear about three mountains that have been locations that have had a huge impact on you and your salvation.
“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 mother Eve, who tormented faithful Job, who set the hearts to reinvent God in their own image while newly delivered from Pharaoh at the Red Sea – although he is powerful and a strong adversary, he is powerless against the Word of Christ.
Watch yourselves, though. For often we do not encourage Satan’s fall. Sometimes we help and aid him. When you refrain from being sustained in the Divine Service by Gospel and Sacrament, Satan is happy; it helps him up! When you convince yourself that you “didn’t get anything” out of a service where God’s Word was faithfully preached and His Sacrament administered, you have been tricked by the devil, and rather than help his fall, you help him back up. Do not join the majority in the world and say, “Oh, we all believe in “god” – that’s enough. We’ll all end up in the same place.” They have bought a lie; and it is a lie from Satan. There is no such thing as a generic “god.” There is One God – the Holy Trinity – and Jesus is God the Son come in the flesh! It is a terrible symptom of our fallen nature to try to reinvent God in our own image.
It was on this first mountain mentioned in our study that we realize how fallen we are. At Sinai, the Lord handed down His Law, proving to us just how far we are from pleasing Him. “Daily we sin much,” says Dr. Luther. In the Ten Commandments, our holy God shows us that there is absolutely no way we can save ourselves and earn life with Him. We are completely rebellious!
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!
You see, to begin with, on Mount Calvary, Jesus assumed all sin on Himself and paid the price with His innocent and holy sacrifice, once and for all. The righteousness of Christ – His just perfection and holiness – are given through His precious blood. He was innocent, yet suffered and endured the miserable death that you and I deserve. There on that mountain, He paid the price and it stands paid forever!
He purchased your right to enter the courts of Mount Zion – the holy Church. Zion originally was the name for the mount on which the Temple was built. It sometimes was used for all Jerusalem, and then for all the Church, everywhere.
For those German immigrants in 1875, this humble corner of Montrose and LaVergne Avenues became Mt. Zion! Here, Christ delivered Himself to them.
Even now, here in the courts of Zion, 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.”
So many want to find salvation in other places. They don’t want to think it is that simple and that particular, that salvation comes through Christ alone, with His work on Mount Calvary and His delivery through Mount Zion. We even have to be careful as we discuss angels. If you give too much attention to Gabriel or Michael or Raphael, you end up distracting from Christ. Do not lose focus.
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.
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.
Satan may have thought he gained some ground when God declared His Law at Mount Sinai. But at Mount Calvary, Jesus – the Lord God in the flesh – took on our punishment, and gave us His righteousness as His Gift! Now, as we regularly gather in Mount Zion, He delivers that righteousness to us again and again, as He gifts us with His Gospel and Sacraments.
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. Rejoice that for 135 years, our gracious Savior has delivered His Gifts here, as He gathers His people on this corner in Chicago. But even more, dear friends in Christ, rejoice that [by His suffering and death on Calvary, the accusation from Sinai is now dismissed, and through the giving of His gifts at Zion that keep you in the faith] your names are written in heaven. Amen.