Text: Revelation 14:6-7
“Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.” (Augsburg Confession, Article IV) These words from the Augsburg Confession, the document that marks us as Lutheran Christians, answers why it is that we exist and why we are here today. For over 500 years we have confessed, as generations of faithful Christians did before us, that we receive the forgiveness of our sins freely, as a gift of God through faith in Christ and not by our works. Luther’s own words: “Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls…Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends.” (Smalcald Articles) In other words, if we lose this teaching, we lose everything – we lose the Church.
Therefore, in our reading from the Revelation an angel was sent to proclaim the eternal Gospel, this teaching, to all the world. In St. John’s Revelation we witness the life of the Church in all the time since our Lord’s death and resurrection, and here we see what happens at the end of time, what is happening even now. Our Lord sent His angel to proclaim His Law and the forgiveness of sins that is by faith in Him. By His grace, we have heard the words of the angel revealed through Scripture. Today we give thanks to God for this: that in the Lutheran Church the Lord has preserved His eternal Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ.
Our text today is a short one but still helpful for us to hear and learn from. Revelation as a whole is a difficult book and we won’t do it justice with just one sermon; one thing we can grasp, though, is that it isn’t a book that flows in a straight line. Thanks be to God, the Gospel of St. Luke – for example – does do this. However, in Revelation certain events are pictured multiple times in different ways. In chapter 14, by God’s grace, St. John received a vision of what will be at the end of time, when our Lord comes for judgment. It begins with John hearing, “a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders.” (Revelation 14:2-3 English Standard Version) The people singing are the people of God in both heaven and earth, rejoicing that now at last the Lord is come to judge evil and gather His people. But then comes our text.
“Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’” (vv. 6-7) Although our text pictures for us the time when our Lord will come again to put an end to all evil, even then His mercy is strong to save. He sent another angel flying in the sky in sight of the world to proclaim the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. In this sense gospel is used in a wider sense. It means that the angel pronounced judgement over sin (he preached the Law) and he pointed people to the forgiveness that is found in Christ (he preached the Gospel). Even at the end of time, the Lord’s desire is for all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
In the Lutheran Church we understand that the “end times,” are not something ahead of us yet to be experienced; they are now. Ever since Christ’s ascension – since He spoke, “It is finished,” really – we are to be ready, watchful, and waiting for our Lord’s return. We are in the End Times now. We are those to whom the Lord’s angel has proclaimed His eternal Gospel. This proclamation has come to us through the Scriptures. From them we learn what God’s will for our lives is: that we love Him above all things and our neighbor as (if not more than) ourselves. We have these things conveniently written for us in the Commandments, but that convenience has not led to our keeping them. Instead, we have consistently and constantly gone against God’s will, desiring to love ourselves above others and above Him. This, at its core, is what it means to sin. Therefore, the angel and Scriptures proclaim to us, “Fear God,” and we should – for God demands that sin and sinners be punished with death and hell.
The angel’s message doesn’t end there, however; he also says, “give Him glory.” Such are we doing today; for, the witness of Scripture is not just that God declares and punishes sin by His Law but also freely forgives sins for the sake of His own Son. This is the Gospel in the narrow sense. Rather condemn a whole universe, the Father sent His Son Jesus into the flesh. Jesus submitted Himself to the Law for us, obeyed it fully, and suffered its condemnation for us on the cross. In His death, all sin was atoned for; forgiveness was won. By His grace, Jesus gives this forgiveness freely as a gift to all who trust in Him. For this reason, we give Him glory. Rather than hold our sins against us and condemn us to hell, rather than demand good works as restitution for sin, the Father had mercy and sent us His Son. By the Holy Spirit we were called to faith and through faith we receive the free forgiveness of sins.
It is for this reason that the Lutheran Church, and even our congregations exist. We are here because the Lord has gathered a church to hear His Word and teach it purely, to administer His Sacraments in keeping with the same. Here we teach, as the Scriptures plainly speak, that we are saved not by our works – whatever they may be – but freely by God’s good will through faith in Christ. We have received from God the eternal Gospel. It, and we, shall endure through all time – even though heaven and earth pass away. Today we give thanks for this, but we also confess that there are others who have yet to hear and receive this message.
The word angel for us in English has a specific meaning. When we say angel, we mean angel. In Greek, though, the word angel is a title or description of duty. Angel, in Greek, means “messenger.” In a way, it’s now our time to be the angel, to be the Lord’s messengers to the world. To us He gives the call to proclaim His Word in Law and Gospel – that we should fear God’s judgement against sin, but also glorify and praise Him for His glory in forgiving sin. Today we give thanks, again, that for over 500 years the Lord has preserved us in the true teaching of His Word. The Lord grant that, in these dark and latter days, we would be faithful angels of His Word and declare to all the free forgiveness of sins that comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.