And war broke out in heaven....
We know of war. We hear of wars and rumors of wars. We see our nation and others fighting over things that matter and things that don't. Some of you have even fought in wars, in foreign lands. Maybe you're against war in general or against a particular war. Maybe you wonder, war, what is it good for?
But the war that broke out in heaven – is like no other war that would ever be. Michael the archangel and his angels fought with the dragon, that great serpent of old, and all his evil angels.
We don't know how long this war lasted, or if, even, that's a question that makes sense. Revelation uses pictures and symbols to express heavenly and spiritual realities, that are in many cases, timeless, eternal. But though they are spiritual, they are just as real.
So in this war of the heavens, we don't know what tactics and strategies were used, or many other things. But we know what's most important: who wins. The good guys. Michael and the angels. They cast the Dragon – aka the Devil, Satan, the Ancient Serpent – they cast him and his fallen angels out of heaven – there is no place for them in God's presence any longer – and they fell.
In rage, smoldering at their defeat and humiliation, the Devil seeks to do what damage he can in what little time he has left. If he can't get to the Lord of Heaven himself, he will set his sights on those created in God's image. And so he roars and prowls and looks to devour even you, and you, and me. The Devil is real, and he is dangerous. He is our most powerful enemy. He is far smarter than you. He knows God's Word far better... Luther even called the Devil a Doctor of Theology. But his wicked knowledge is all geared toward one purpose – to do you harm. To destroy your life, to see you suffer and die. And ultimately, if it were possible, to steal you away, to lead you astray, even gently if he has to, from the Christian faith and from your Lord.
This is the most insidious way that he devours. His slithering question, “Did God really say...?” continues to be asked today. It is asked in the public square when Christian teaching is ridiculed and marginalized. It is asked in church bodies that dance to the Devil's pied-piper tune and plot a course away from God's word and into heresy and damnation. And the Devil's question is asked and answered when you reach for whatever forbidden fruit hangs in front of you – and you decide you know better and want to be like God. Oh Lord, deliver us from this evil, we pray!
But just as our foe was cast out of Heaven, so will he one day be cast into the lake of fire. Just as he fell like lightning from heaven, so does he fall in defeat to the same weapons of warfare used by Michael and the angels. “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”. It seems the angels, too, use the same weapons given to us, Christians. The blood of the Lamb and the testimony, the word of God.
The word. It's the way Jesus himself defeated the tempter in the wilderness. It is written. It is written. It is written. The word that created and recreates. The same word which bespeaks us righteous. The same word cried out, “Father forgive them” and which forgives you, even today. The same word that will be spoken over your grave, “Death, where is thy victory, Death where is thy sting?”. The same word which will be spoken at the trumpet call of God when Christ returns with all his angels and brings all things to fulfillment. The word of God. That word of God made flesh in Christ.
And the other “weapon” by which they overcame - The blood of the Lamb. It's the way Jesus himself defeated the Foe on our behalf, at the cross. There and then the Accuser lost any sins to accuse, because Jesus took them all away. The blood of the Lamb. “His blood be on us and on our children” the murderous crowd seethed. And bitter and blessed irony, His blood is upon us, to save us. The blood of the Lamb, by the water of baptism, douses the doorposts of your heart - to mark you – so that the destroyer would passover this one. Jesus was destroyed in your place. His blood shed in exchange for yours. His defeat – your victory.
But the blood of Jesus doesn't just stop at the cross. The blood of Jesus by which we overcome the Dragon and all his forces of evil is also for us today. The blood once shed, the body once broken – dead, but now alive forever – that same body and blood are here for you in on the altar, in the bread and wine, by the promise of the Lamb himself. Here, he breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, and saves us by his grace, delivering us from evil. Here in this holy meal you receive the victorious Christ, and are united with him and with his victory.
Likewise the testimony by which they overcame – the same word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ in particular, is preached from this pulpit, read at that lectern, sung in this sanctuary, prayed at this altar. This word, this sharp, two-edged sword, not only kills our old Adam and revives our own Spirit, but the same proclamation of Christ disarms and destroys the foe and his accusations. It is the one little word that can fell him.
So God sends his holy angels, who once cast Satan from heaven, to watch over us even here and now. In a sense the war still continues, as we struggle not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil. Thanks be to God for our allies in this fight, those messengers from on high who watch over and defend the children of God at his command. Why shouldn't the Lord God, who spared not even his own Son for our salvation, not also give us even more? Why shouldn't he who feeds us and quenches us with Christ's body and blood, and speaks to us his word of promise, not also keep us by his firstborn sons of light?
Therefore rejoice, oh heavens, and you who dwell in them! And can't we count ourselves among the inhabitants of heaven? Certainly our citizenship is there. Surely our destination is with the Lord. Even now, we are strangers and sojourners on this earth. We are in it, but not of it.
For salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come.. to us. Like the angels, we too overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the testimony. And we too see the accusations of Satan fall to nothing, for in Christ, your sins are no more. Battle over. Victory won. Eternity secure. In Jesus' Name. Amen.