A Homily for Michaelmas
September 29, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Topical sermon – Angels and demons
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.Amen.
There was once a monk who was struggling with temptation. He found that he was no longer able to stay in his cell and he went to his superior and sought his advice. His superior told him to return to his cell. But he refused, saying “father, I cannot!” Then his superior took the monk out onto the terrace and said to him “look towards the west.” He looked and saw hoards of demons standing about and making noise as though preparing for an attack. Then the superior said “look towards the east.” He turned and saw an innumerable multitude of holy angels shining with glory,” and the superior said, “see, these are sent by the Lord to the saints to bring them help, while those in the west fight against them. Those who are with us are more in number than those against us.” So the monk was encouraged.
This is a slight paraphrase of one of the sayings of the desert father, the earliest group of aesthetics in the Christian tradition. I tell you this story for two reasons. First – as a pithy reminder that for every demon that seeks to destroy a soul, there’s more angels who guard the Christian and serve serving Christ.
Second – the story acts as a reminder that we live in a multi-dimensional world. There are spiritual forces that are at play that we cannot see, but we know that they are there. We live in a time and place that has lived under the tyranny of programmatic demythologization. We are all children of modernism, children of reckless rationalism.
It was interesting, as I read about angels and demons to prepare for this morning, in one of the Bible Dictionaries I used the term “Demythologization” immediately followed the article on “Demons.” As children of modernism we must understand this term for it is overwhelming common. It is described as a process of theology championed by a German theologian named Rudolf Bultmann who challenged the theological world to “take up the task of freeing the New Testament message from the mythological world view of the first century.”
This task was taken up with vigor primarily by mainline theologians until the gospel was stripped from any power and became a mere social statement, and Christ was no longer Christ but a dubiously historical figure who appeared to be more like the theologians who stripped away the myth, than the true historical figure whom we know as our Lord and our savior.
Our challenge now – is to return to the myth – the greatest myth, the one true myth that changed the world. A part of this task is to is understanding what scripture says, and does not say. This Sunday is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. It is a day that forces us to remember that Angels are not fanciful ideas of the past but real creatures that serve God and interact with the tangible world.
With our task set before us, let us commence our relatively quick study of angels. First, we must set this ground rule: the only way to know truly what angels are is from studying the Bible.
We must, therefore, put to rest some false ideas. First – Angels are not reincarnate humans. We often here platitudes that “God just needed another Angel” when someone dies. There is nothing to suggest this in scripture. If we were to speak of angels scientifically, they would be a completely different species than human beings. When we die, we remain humans, and our souls go to God until they are rejoined with our resurrected and glorified bodies. We do not become angels.
Next – angels are not tubby babies with wings, nor for that matter men with wings. There is nothing in scripture to suggest this. The idea of tubby babies with wings arose in medieval art and are often referred to as cherubs. We will get to cherubs in a moment – but they are not babies with wings.
Third – there is nothing in scripture to suggest that each of us has a guardian angel. There are some passages, such as in Daniel to suggest that when we are in danger angels protect us, but it is not as though I have an Angel named Joey who follows me around, trying desperately to keep me out of trouble.
Fourth – we are not created in the image of angels. This has become a fairly uncommon misconception, but from time to time, you may hear people thinking that the plurality in the creation account in Genesis 1 is God speaking to angels, this is erroneous as well, the plurality speaks to the complexity of God. It is a hint and foreshadowing towards the later revelation that God is triune in nature.
Finally – one of the modern heresies that persists is that Jesus was an incarnate angel. Scripture decidedly does not support this. Jesus is the third person of the Trinity, God made flesh to dwell among us.
Having put to rest a couple of false ideas of who angels are, let turn our attention to who angels actually are. If we only had thirty seconds – this is what you’d need to know about angels – they were created to worship and praise God, serve him and act as messengers. Attend this closely, if you get nothing else from this sermon – Angels were created to worship and praise God, serve him, and act as his messengers.
We do not know a lot about Angels within the order of creation. For example, it is unclear when angels were created. They are completely absent from the creation narrative of Genesis 1 and 2, yet Satan, a fallen angel, is the tempter who plants deception into the heart and mind of Eve. We see of this in Genesis 3, and learn his identity in Revelation 12. So, when exactly angels were created It is hard to say, though Job 38 implies they witnessed and rejoiced at the creation of the world. It is likely therefore that the creation of angels pre-date the creation of humanity, if not the entire world.
Within the order of creation – Angels are strong and powerful. They are referred to as being the “mighty ones that (do God’s) work.” They are referred to as having moral perfection, though as we’ll see they are corruptible. They have moral goodness, such that false teachers in the apostolic era tried to mimic angels to mislead Christians and draw them away from the truth of the Gospel. Finally, angels are usually distinguishable from people. As we will note shortly, when they appear as people they appear in glory.
Now, I mentioned earlier that I don’t have a guardian angel named Joey. In fact we only know of two angels as having names – the first being the one whom we read about today – Michael the Arch or chief angel. Michael makes an appearance in Daniel, Jude, and of course today. Beyond what we read this morning not much is known about him.
The second angel we know by name is Gabriel. He is also mentioned twice in Daniel and twice in Luke. In Daniel he is asked to help with understanding a vision, and in Luke he announces to Zachariah the birth of John and to Mary the birth of Jesus. Beyond that we know nothing more of Gabriel.
Next, only two types of angels are mentioned, though from other physical descriptions we know that they are not limited to only these two types. The first are cherubs, mentioned earlier or in the plural cherubim. These are winged creatures that are mentioned occasionally, mostly in the old testament. They have four faces and four wings. They seem to act as custodians or guardians of the most sacred things on earth – they were set to guard the garden of Eden for example.
Seraph or Seraphim are only mentioned twice in the bible, and in both cases in Isaiah 6. These angels have six wings and frankly sound intense and perhaps snake like in appearance. One of their tasks seem to be praising God, but one of them also flies to Isaiah and gives him a burning goal to purify him. These are the only two classes of Angels scripture speaks of.
Now there does seem to be another type of Angel that appear as men. We know this because St. Paul says that some false prophets try to appear as angels, but we also see them as being clothed in purity or shining garments in other biblical accounts. There are times in scripture when humans interact with angels who appear as people such as at Sodom in Genesis.
Angels are never depicted as being men with wings. Sorry fans of popular cultural, this depiction, while fun, is not biblical. We also learn from Matthew that they do not marry, and therefore it is entirely likely, that they are genderless, or at least do not reproduce as human beings reproduce.
Now, we have some idea about what angels appear as, or don’t appear as, what do they do?
First, as I mentioned, they are seen as guardians of holy places. This is first seen in Eden. When Adam and Eve are evicted angels are set to guard the garden. They are also depicted as being over the arch of the covenant, the tabernacle, and the temple. In other words they protect holy places from those who might want to cause them harm.
Next, they are messengers. The word angel is derived from the Greek word angelos. This word simply means messenger, thus telling us a great deal about how the New Testament writers views angels. But, we also see them as messengers to God’s people in the Old Testament. We are also told angels announce goodness, warn of danger, guard from evil, guide and protect God’s people, nourish, and instruct.
Angels take a backseat in Christian theology for one simple reason – the Holy Spirit takes on a lot of the functions of Angels. He guides, illuminates, protects, and empowers Christians. None-the-less angels are not left out from the New Testament, and we do want to have a healthy respect and knowledge of angels.
Christianity therefore affirms all that I have mentioned thus far and it is wise to have a thorough biblical understanding of them. This also prevents us from falling into the superstitions we mentioned earlier. Furthermore, if we were to experience angels, the New Testament warns us that some have been tempted to worship them. We saw this as we read through Revelation earlier this year, where St. John tried to worship his guide angel and was told no, worship only God.
Hebrews 13 also gives us an interesting illumination into the nature of angels. Here we learn to always be hospitable because some have entertained angels unaware. It is likely that this refers to Lot, but perhaps something else as well. Either way – Angels have interacted with humans and the humans were not aware they were interacting with supernatural beings.
Now – here is the bad news – at some point some of the angels fell. Implications from scripture is that there are innumerable number of demons, or fallen angels. The book of Revelation implies that one third of the angels fell, so, as terrifying as it is that there are innumerable demons, it seems that there are twice as many angels, so do not tremble but be encouraged.
Now – scripture affirms several times, in Job, Matthew, and 2 Peter that Satan is the chief demon. It is he who deceives Eve and causes Adam to sin and he is the great serpent in Revelation.
Our word demon is derived from the Greek word daimon – “a divinity or deity.” The implication in using this word is that demons often portray themselves as deities, of course they are false gods, who want to distract us from right worship. In both the Old and New Testament they are referred to as various types of spirits – usually with adjectives of evil, unclean, or infirmity added to the word spirit to clarify whom we are talking about.
Fallen angels have a similar task as Angels except they serve an insidious master out of fear and delusion. While angels encourage and protect demons tempt, deceive, and delude people. Perhaps the parable of the sower is the best example of this – demons seek to snatch away the Word before it can take root.
As we attempt to protect ourselves from demons there are a few things to bear in mind – first we see from Genesis 3 how they operate. They take the same three fold approach as satan did in the first temptation – first they deny the truth of the Word of God and challenge its statements. Second, they deny the reality of death, and finally they appeal to human vanity and pride. The lie, deceive and oppress. The best protection against demons is to know the Word of God inside and out. To let the Word of God form our heart.
Now, let us close with a couple of points of hope. First we see Christ interact with Angels and demons regularly in the gospel accounts. Angels announce his birth, they guide and warn his parents against evil, they tend to him in the wilderness. It is the devil that tempts and fails to cause Christ to sin in the wilderness. Likewise we see in scripture that demons tremble before Him knowing his power over them. Angels minister to Christ in the garden of Gethsemane and urge him on to the cross. It is interesting to note that they are conspicuously absent at his crucifixion, though Christ could have called them down at any point. He does not. He suffers wholly for our sins, and dies alone. Finally, it is Angels that announce his resurrection to the women who come to tend to his body.
As I close, I want to make two notes – first I tried to avoid as much speculation as possible, angels and demons are real, but there is scant information beyond what I shared. Anywhere that I did speculate, I attempted to do so with the utmost caution and clarity that perhaps it is this way. Because of time constraints I could not give you all the Biblical references that you may have desired. If you would like more information, please let me know and I’d be happy to give you some of the articles I worked from which have a tremendous number of references within them.
Finally, two points of hope – we are not alone, though there are a myriad of demons who wish to destroy our souls and the devil is a roaring lion who wanders the earth hoping to snatch us from God – we have nothing to fear. Demons are out numbered and overpowered. Secondly, our final great hope is the coming of the kingdom of heaven, the coming of Christ to call home his people. On the last day, the demons will be cast away, and we will be freed from their temptation. Let us persevere in knowing that Christ will come again and until then we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and there are an innumerable multitude of Angels pushing back the forces of darkness, the demons that we might live to the glory of God in Christ.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.