What do you suppose they mean when they say that? In what ways was your baby like an angel? Perhaps people have the notion that angels are pretty and cute, and that’s the impression that one gets when they see an angel picture in a Christian book store. So in that sense, a baby might remind them of an angel. Of course we might also refer to someone as an angel who is unusually kind to other people (“they are such an angel!”). But I doubt we have ever had someone come up to our baby and say, “Wow, what a…a…messenger!” And yet that’s what both the Hebrew and Greek words for “angel” really mean: a messenger.
The Book of Revelation, from where our first reading is taken, is the only book of prophecy in the New Testament. And in his vision of forthcoming events, John sees an angel coming in the future. Some have supposed that this angel is a prophecy of Martin Luther. In fact, when Luther died in 1546, his pastor used this very text to base his funeral sermon on – because Luther was an angel. He was a messenger of God.
But it would be wrong of us to suppose that Martin Luther is the only fulfillment of this prophecy of an angel. The reformation angel represents more than just one person. This angel has flown throughout the history of the Christian church, and it continues to soar in the air and shout its message in our day. Today we will see that The Reformation Angel resists attacks from outside of the Church, and overcomes enemies from within the Church.
It truly is a miracle that we are here this morning.
We may not think so because we come to church every Sunday, but if we look at the Church’s history, and see how many people over the years have tried to destroy it, how many poisonous false teachings have threatened to tear the Church apart, then we realize that it is truly a miracle of God’s grace that we are here studying the untainted Word this morning.
To really understand what this flying angel in our text means, we need to go back to the previous chapter in Revelation. In chapter 13, John sees some of the enemies that will work to destroy Christ’s Church. These enemies are pictured as two dominating, ugly beasts. One beast comes out of the sea, and one comes out of the earth. Listen to how this first beast is described, “And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns.”
There is something in that last sentence that gives us a hint about what this beast represents. This beast wears crowns. In other words, it represents secular, governmental leaders. Revelation warns the church that one of its fiercest enemies will be the state, the rulers of this world. And we don’t have to think too long before we can remember instances where the government was the enemy of the church.
The Roman Empire, renowned for its supposedly fair court system, put many of Jesus’ apostles to death. In fact, we remember that Jesus himself was given the death penalty by Pontius Pilate in a case where the evidence against him was sketchy at best. History is full of examples of governments ferociously attacking the Church, burning church buildings, intimidating, torturing, and even executing people for daring to call themselves Christians.
Against this melancholy backdrop we see the Reformation angel in our text. The earthly forces will try as hard as they can to stamp out Christianity, and yet the divine messenger flies out of heaven to protect the Church from these attacks. Our text reads: “I saw another angel flying directly overhead…”
This angel, this messenger, is above the earth, flying in midair, unable to be touched by Christ’s earthly enemies. And listen to what he says, “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.” In other words, don’t worry about the powers here on earth, instead respect the only true source of power in the universe: the Lord, who will be the Judge of all this world!
Martin Luther had much to worry about from his government. His own immediate ruler, Elector Frederick, king of Luther’s German province of Saxony, at first was not too thrilled that Luther was preaching against his collection of relics that he had amassed over the years. These relics were things like bones of the saints, little pieces of wood that were supposed to be from Jesus’ cross, and pieces of silver that Judas got for betraying Jesus. Martin Luther’s ruler, along with other kings, taught their subjects to worship these objects in order to have a better chance of going to heaven. Luther, like the angel here in Revelation 14, stood up to the powers on earth. He didn’t give in to Elector Frederick. Martin Luther didn’t flinch when he was brought before dukes and noblemen and kings and emperors as they tried to force him, under the threat of death, to deny his Savior Jesus.
How was Luther able to stand up against such commanding and influential princes, who held in their hands his very life? Simple: this messenger of God realized that the Lord was more powerful than these men. And if the choice came down between obeying the desires of men or obeying the commands of the Lord, the choice was a simple one for Luther. As our text says, Luther was going to “fear God and give him glory.”
It was a wise choice of Luther’s, wasn’t it?
After all, all these men that he stood up against are no longer in power.
They are long dead. But the Lord God is still in command of the world. And Luther, like the apostles before him, simply chose to obey the eternal Lord instead of temporary earthly authorities.
But is this merely a history lesson, where we see the courage of a man who stood against incredible odds and came out victorious by the hand of God? Certainly very few if any of us are going to be called to stand in front of kings and boldly confess our faith under threat of death. While we in the US might not have to fear losing our lives to the government over our faith, our world is just as hostile to Christianity as it was to Luther’s world. And we are the ones who need to be angels, messengers of the Lord, willing to confess our faith no matter what the cost.
We don’t need to look too far back into history before we find governments that have been openly hostile to Jesus and his followers. Nazi Germany. Communist Russia. Islamic Fundamentalist Governments. Brutal dictators who view Christianity as a threat to their power. Oh yes, this beast of secular power is still alive and well in the world. And we don’t need to cross oceans to find him. We face him here in our own country. Now I say this, loving the US, thankful to the Lord for the rights and freedoms that he has given us through our democracy. However, even though our government stamps on each of its coins the motto, “In God We Trust,” anti-christian power is alive and well here within our borders.
Each and every one of the Democratic candidates running for president is pro-Choice. In other words, in the name of politics they have set aside one of the 10 Commandments, the one that protects God’s gift of life, and for the sake of votes these politicians encourage laws that fly directly in the face of God’s wishes. We see this ugly beast rearing its head when we see members of our government so adamant about abolishing anything Christian in our society, causing them to do things like ban the statue of the 10 Commandments in a courthouse. What else is this but the beast trying to destroy the Church, just like Revelation said he would try to do?
On the other hand it is the Church’s God-given mission to preach the Gospel so that souls may be saved. We are all messengers of the Lord, angels in a sense, angels like the one in our text, and God wants us as individuals to stand up for the beliefs and teachings that he has entrusted to us. We don’t need to sit idly by as we see this beast gaining power. Angels of every age need to boldly proclaim, like Martin Luther, “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.”
But there is another enemy the Church needs to be on its guard against. This one does not come from outside, rather it lives inside the Church. Revelation 13 describes it in this way, “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.” This beast is even more dangerous than the first! This beast doesn’t come out and say, “watch out! I’m big and bad!” Instead, it looks like a lamb, it looks rather harmless. And yet his words, his teachings, are from the dragon, the devil.
In Martin Luther’s day, this beast represented the powers in the Church. They tried to appear as servants of God, but their teachings were directly against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Under this beast, heaven and the forgiveness of sins became things that you could acquire for yourself, if you did the right deeds or paid the right amount of money. This beast fooled many people. They thought he was from God, but he was really filled with demonic power.
And once again, the Reformation angel flies to the rescue.
“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.” This angel fights the second beast with a message that is powerful in three ways: It’s an Eternal message. Both beasts try as they may, but they will not be able to wipe Jesus Christ from the face of the earth.
Second, it’s the Gospel message. Gospel as opposed to Law. Good news, Free forgiveness as opposed to a conditional mercy on God’s part. Getting to heaven is Christ’s work – as opposed to things that we need to do to make God happy with us.
Thirdly, this message is Universal. No one is left out. No one is excluded. Jesus died for the sins of every one. Jesus saved all people from every nation, every tribe, every language.
Martin Luther fought this second beast with his pen. And his most important work was the translation of the Bible into the common language of the people. Before, only highly educated people could read and understand the words of the Bible – if they could find a Bible in the first place. Martin Luther, the Reformation angel, was God’s messenger in that he made the Word of God accessible to the common person. And he inspired millions to do the same. The Bible has since been translated into hundreds of languages. People all over the world are understanding that their salvation is free, won by the blood of Jesus Christ.
In our day, we too experience this beast that has the appearance of a harmless lamb but speaks with the voice of the devil. But most Christians have let their guard down, and they pretend that he doesn’t exist. I am sure all of us have seen the bumper sticker with a number of religious symbols and the words ‘coexist.’ And there is some truth to that sticker in that we should try and get along with our neighbor regardless of their beliefs.
But it is also true that Jesus said, ‘I am the truth, I am the light, and I am the only way to salvation.’ We cannot fall into the trap of thinking that all religions are pretty much the same. God loves us all, true, but He sent His one and only Son with a message and as reformation angels we are charged with protecting that message. The beast continues to ridicule those who hold to the teachings of the Bible and there is a hatred directed toward those who are faithful to its teachings. Sometimes it is as subtle as the message to coexist. Other times it’s an all out attack.
In a couple of days we’ll be celebrating Halloween, many people decorated their yards with scary things like cobwebs, spiders, and skeletons. Right outside these doors are a number of tombstones. They are decorated with the letters RIP, which stands for rest in peace. If we were to decorate a tombstone for Martin Luther we might use the two verses from our Revelation reading, for Martin Luther was the man God used to bring the Gospel back into the spotlight.
He definitely was an angel, a messenger the Lord used to bring countless souls into the kingdom of God. But remember, this Reformation Angel isn’t gone. It lives in each of us as we teach our family the truths about Jesus. It flies through the air and contends with God’s enemies every time we tell someone the reason that we know we are going to heaven.
So, the next time we are tempted to call someone’s baby a little angel, stop and pray that the child does grow up to be a faithful messenger of our Savior Jesus Christ. And I personally pray that all of us are Reformation angels: messengers who are bold to confess Christ, empowered by the strength that comes from above.