Text: Psalm 91:11-12
We sang together in the Psalm, “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:11-2, English Standard Version) In the Gospel, we heard our Lord say, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels away see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 18:10) From these verses, along with many more throughout the Scriptures, we conclude that Biblical faith also includes a belief in angels. The angels are not essential to our salvation; they don’t contribute anything to it. Yet, one who confesses faith in the words of Holy Scripture must also acknowledge that angels do exist.
But what are angels, and for what purpose do they exist? These are questions that our Lord answers through the Scriptures, and we have the opportunity today to talk about them. Today is the feast of St. Michael the archangel along with all other angels. This holiday has been celebrated in the Christian church on September 29th for over a 1,000 years, even if hasn’t always been marked in every congregation. For us, this is another opportunity to give thanks and praise to God. He so greatly desires and is concerned for our salvation that He has created angels to serve and watch over us. We pray that, as they continually serve Him and behold His face in heaven, so we would serve God faithfully in this life until we behold Christ with our eyes in heaven.
That angels do exist is a fact. Though, at times in Scripture, angels do take visible forms, we cannot prove their existence scientifically. We must simply trust God – who cannot and does not lie. Let’s first ask this question: What are angels? In simple terms, angels are beings created by God during the first six days. They are similar to humans in that – at creation – both they and we were created with free will to love and serve God. Angels are different from us according to their nature. We humans are both body and soul, while angels are purely spirit beings. They do not have bodies. But, that isn’t the only difference. The angels are also different according to their strength. The Scriptures often speak of the angels as being strong and mighty; they are often pictured as warriors and armies. They are not all-powerful or all-knowing, things which belong to God alone; but they are mightier than we are.
As we heard in the reading from Revelation, there are both good and evil angels. The evil angels are frequently called “demons,” “devils,” and “unclean spirits” in Scripture. We do not know exactly how there came to be evil angels except for that the Scriptures indicate they were not created that way. The evil angels are in fact fallen angels who, with Satan, rebelled against God sometime before the Fall of Man, were cast out of heaven, and will locked away in hell on the Last Day. The goal of the evil angels is to cause havoc in both Church and state and destroy the faith of as many Christians or prevent as many from hearing the true Gospel of Christ as possible. However, their number is limited and their time is short. There will never be any more fallen angels, as God made it so that the angels can no longer fall. Christ did defeat them one and all by His resurrection from the dead, and all demons will be finally put away at His return. That is what the demons were afraid of before Jesus cast them into the herd of pigs.
That is what angels are. They are spirit beings created by God in the first week of creation. They are similar to us in that they were created with free will, different from us according to their nature and might – and that Christ was sent only for us. That’s what angels are, now we should ask what angels do. Why did God create the angels? The angels exist to do God’s will. The Scriptures describe them doing this in a few ways. First, the Scriptures teach us that the angels serve to worship and praise God. They did so at the creation of the world. In His answer to Job, the Lord asked, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth…when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Jb. 38:4, 7). We heard on Trinity Sunday of St. Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly throne room. It was angels who first sang these words, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Is. 6:3) The Gloria in Excelsis we sing in the Divine Service was also first sung to the glory of God by His angels. The angels exist for the glory of God.
A second work of the angels we learn from the name, angel. The word “angel” comes from the Greek and means “messenger.” The angels serve as messengers and ministers of God to His children. Angels brought God’s Word to the patriarchs and prophets – which we heard in the Old Testament reading. Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and the birth of our Lord to Mary and Joseph. They announced to the women and apostles on Easter that our Lord had risen from the dead, just as He said He would. Angels cared for our Lord in the wilderness after He was tempted by the devil, and one strengthened Him with encouragement in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Angels also serve God and carry out His will by protecting and watching over His children on earth. Our Lord referenced this in the Gospel, the Psalm also spoke of God commanding His angels in their care over us. We see examples of this in Scripture, such as when an angel of the Lord defended Jerusalem by single-handedly defeating an enemy army, when angels rescued Lot from the destruction of Sodom, and when an angel preserved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. The same things they did then, they do know. They help defend the Bride of Christ – us – from the devil and all his minions. They are present with us in the worship of Christ, and they rejoice together with us over the forgiveness of sins. Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk. 15:10)
What, then, should we take away today, especially with today being a Church holiday? Today we give thanks to God for His great mercy and we praise Him for His great care for us. His concern and care for our – for your and my – salvation is so great that He created angels, who are strong and mighty, to keep watch over us. They are at all times obeying God’s will and defending both His Church and us His children. We may never know how often we have been preserved from great danger, misfortune, or false teaching, by God through His angels. For that, we give God all praise and glory.
Another thing we might take away is that the heavenly angels serve as faithful messengers of God’s Word to His people. We should pray that we might also be faithful, like the angels. In thanksgiving for the forgiveness of sins that we have by faith in Christ, we might pray that we would be, likewise, faithful servants and messengers of God in this earthly life. The angels do now, at all times, behold God’s face in heaven. May the Lord grant that we, giving all thanks and praise to Him for His great glory, serve Him faithfully throughout this life until, with eyes unclouded, we behold His face ourselves in the life to come. In Jesus’ name.