All Bark and No Bite

Revelation 12:7-10 And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.”

There’s a New Year’s tradition in Ecuador where each family will burn a doll in effigy. They dress it up as something or someone that represents all that went wrong that year. Then at the stroke of midnight they take it outside and they watch it burn. The Chinese dance with a dragon. They want the power of that dragon dance to stop the demons from the old year from chasing them into the new one. I was thinking about this and wondering if Americans have those same feelings so I asked one of my friends, “What’s the New Year mean to you?” And the person said, “It’s a fresh start. It’s a time to leave the failures of the past year behind.”

Endings have power. I was watching a movie with my wife this past Friday night about a band touring the country. Their plane got caught in such a bad lightning storm that everybody became convinced that they were going down. And suddenly all the secrets of their hearts began to pour out. “I did this,” someone said. “I did that,” someone else said. The moment that they were faced with the ultimate ending they all went to the confessional.

Why do endings have that kind of power over us? Why do they drive us to confess, to burn dolls in effigy, and to dance with dragons? That’s a question that gets its answer within the context of a much larger war. It’s a war that was launched soon after the first Christmas Day. And this war was a World War. It was a war involving powers so profound and deep that its outcome would impact the eternal destination of every human soul. That’s the angelic war we see when God pulls back the veil in Revelation chapter 12 - a war fought when God’s Son was born to Mary.

That is when this was all happening. “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.” (v. 5) A woman gives birth to a son, a son who would rule the nations with power. He ends up being snatched up to God and his throne. Who does that sound like? Yeah. That’s Jesus. He did his work here. And then he left and ascended into heaven.

And that results in war. It wasn’t the first angelic war. Satan and his minions got tossed out of heaven once before when they first rebelled against God. And then they bided their time for centuries, but finally attacked again with a full frontal assault after Jesus came as a baby. It’s just as John said, “There was war in heaven.” (v. 7) I’m not sure exactly what that means. God’s top angel, Michael, and his angels somehow fought against the dragon and his angels. But I’m not sure exactly what that means. Angels don’t use bullets or light sabers. They don’t hide in bunkers or send drones after each other. They can’t. They’re angels.

What we do know is that when Jesus came the first time angels pulled out all the stops. There’s a reason why history reports so many demon possessions during Jesus’ ministry. There’s a reason why we’re told that Satan entered Judas when he went out to betray Jesus. There’s also a reason why Gabriel showed up to Mary, why angels appeared in the sky to shepherds, and why an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream not once, but twice. Angels were warring over God’s human treasures.

We may not know much about how the war was fought, but we do know how it ended. But he (the dragon) was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” (v. 8-9) We may not know much about how angelic warfare works, but we do know how the war ended. The great dragon was hurled down to the earth, and his angels with him. I suppose I could be a little bit more accurate about this war. Not only do we know that the evil angels lost, we also know where they landed when they did. They were hurled to the earth.

Now I can only imagine what you’re thinking right now, “Wait a minute, pastor. Did you just say what I thought I heard you say? Did you just say that the dragon and his angels were hurled down here?” I did. You heard that right. They were hurled to the earth. And just to make sure we’re all catching the significance of this, let me just point out the method of delivery. They were hurled. There was no soft landing for these evil angels. Understand what the means for us. It means that a whole bunch of very ticked off, powerful, evil angels are right now roaming around this planet.

And they are doing their worst. We don’t have to guess what they’re up to. We’re told. We’re told that the ancient serpent is called the Devil, or The Slanderer. We’re told that because that’s what he does. That’s what he’s good at. He slanders and he slanders and he slanders. Or to use another one of the names that John gives the Devil here, he’s the Accuser who is always accusing. And one of his main targets is you.

There is a method to his madness. It was always this time of year in Minnesota when my grandpa would hand me two important tools. He’d hand me a sledgehammer and a wedge. Because you have to split wood to put it in the fire. Same principle here. You have to split God and a human to put a person in the fire. And Satan does that with very blunt, powerful instruments. He accuses and guilt splits a person off from God. Why? Guilt is our emotional response to sin. It’s an emotion that tells us that we’re not right with God because of what we’ve done. Guilt works to split us off from God.

There’s a reason why Edgar Allan Poe’s work The Tell-Tale Heart is a classic. It’s because it resonates. It’s because we get it. It’s because we know all too well how guilt feels. Don’t worry I won’t tell the story because of young ears here, but I do want to read the end of Poe’s work. He beautifully captures how guilt feels to us. “But anything was better than this agony! Anything more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now - again - hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! “Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!”

That’s how Satan goes after us. He uses accusation and guilt as blunt instruments to split us off from God. He works so hard at that. There’s an app called Secret and now another one called Whisper where currently millions of users anonymously share, according to one reviewer, “acts of contrition, and catharsis.” Why? Because The Accuser was hurled to the earth and he’s gotten right down to business. He loves to remind us of the skeletons in our closets. He loves to beat up moms for being less than they can be. He loves to attack us for failing to notice the pain in another person’s face or that missed appointment with a friend. He enjoys showing us all the failures from the past year - anything to fill us with guilt so that our souls become convinced that God is angry at us. And let’s be honest. Sometimes that tactic is a mighty force. Sometimes it resonates deeply because the accusations carry truth.

But they don’t carry truth about God. We know the outcome of the angelic war. “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.’” (v. 10) Understand something. The Accuser wasn’t tossed out of heaven so that he could come down here and accuse. The Accuser was tossed out of heaven because he can accuse you no longer. God wouldn’t hear it. Why not? Feel the force of these words: because now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. Now.

That’s why the angels burst out into poetry that night in Bethlehem. That’s why the shepherds heard that angelic chorus. Because now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of Christ. Do you see what that means? We don’t have to wait for it anymore. God’s power. God’s authority. God’s kingdom is here with you and for you right now. Do you realize that? It’s in his gospel.

Think about it. When God’s holy, good angels fought for the treasure of human souls, do you remember how they did it? They were so smart. They were so powerful about it. They waged war for us with the metaphorical big gun. Do you remember what it was? It wasn’t lightning bolts dancing in the skies. It wasn’t angelic bullets or laser-guided missiles. It wasn’t even the glory shining around the shepherds. It was something even more powerful and more glorious. It was the message. It was the gospel.

Do you remember what that message was? When I was a little kid, I remember hearing the King James Version of the verse, “And on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14) And it’s just that simple. God has found and executed a way to make peace between himself and people. His name is Jesus. Jesus’ life and work shows that God doesn’t have it out for anybody. He favors everybody in Christ. It’s just that simple. Or is it?

I remember sitting with Tony. He had called me on the phone earlier that week. His voice had been shaky, nervous, and sad. He said that he didn’t know where to turn. He said, "I sinned and I need help.” He was under attack so I asked him to come in and he did. He said, “My high school counselor keeps telling me I’m a good kid and what I’ve done isn’t a big deal. I don’t believe him.” And then he went on, “If you knew what I’ve done you wouldn't say that I’m forgiven.” And he insisted on that. So, finally, I said to him, “Tony, tell me what you did.” With what I can only describe as shame reaching to the heavens, he spoke into the air between us his sin. And I met it with the gospel. I said, “Tony, now I know your sin. It’s time for you to know the gospel. Jesus came to forgive even that. God only sees you as perfect and I do too.” And in that moment the power of the Accuser was rendered inert like a bomb that couldn't ever go off. Jesus won the day.

Do you see that? The angels said peace on earth. The whole thing. The angels said good will to men. All of them. Christ was such a big, huge, powerful Savior that his work brought God’s favor to everybody. That’s how big the gospel is. It’s excludes nobody and includes everybody. The angels meant it when they said peace on earth. And they meant it when they said God favors men in general. God’s angels gave us good news that was complete, robust, exhaustive, and universal. Or to say it how John said it in his gospel, “God so loved the world.” And that can only mean one thing. God means you. Yes, even the you that had too much to drink on Christmas Eve. Even the you that dropped that juicy bit of water cooler gossip at the company Christmas party. Even the you that has so many regrets about the past year. He truly means you.

Maybe you’ve never thought about this before, but because that’s true Satan’s accusations are all bark and no bite. He’s got nothing on you anymore. I want to tell you something really cool that’s pictured in the rest of this chapter of Revelation. The dragon is pictured as going after God’s people, sort of chomping at their heels, but when he does he comes up just short. He gets snagged. He gets stopped. Turns out he leashed. Turns out he can’t touch us. Turns out he’s all bark and no bite.

I like to think about that when endings force me to stop and deal with the regret, the sin, the shame and the guilt of my past. I like to think about how the war is so much bigger than me. I like to think about how what’s really happening is that the Slanderer is here and he’s after me. And then I like to picture him as he really is. All buggy eyed, foaming at the mouth, and lunging at me, but always just out of reach of my soul - all bark and no bite. God’s angels have spoken the truth that set me free. Jesus means that I have peace with God. Amen.

Subscribe to Sermons - Peace Lutheran (Aiken, South Carolina) by Email