26 – In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,
27 – to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
28 – The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 – Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
30 – But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
31 – You will be with child and give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus.
32 – He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His Father David,
33 – and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.”
34 – “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 – The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
36 – Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.
37 – For nothing is impossible with God.”
One Saturday afternoon a couple weeks ago my family and I joined a couple dozen Redlanders and traveled north to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to see the Millennial Theater’s production of, “The Miracle of Christmas” which was a spectacular musical dramatization of the Christmas story…and it was very well done. I mean, the sets were amazing: entire villages with one and two story houses…farm fields full of workers harvesting their crops and the stage wrapped around you so you felt as if you were right in the middle of things. I found myself constantly looking left and right to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
The costumes themselves were worthy of an academy award-everything from authentic first century Palestinian peasant garb to Roman soldiers in full battle dress. There were live animals: horses, burros, donkeys — even camels. The special affects were unbelievable: star filled skies, homes torched in front of your eyes by Roman soldiers, laser-driven meteors flying overhead…
The scene from heaven had so many smoke machines and pulsating lights that you felt you were actually at the foot of the throne of God. And, ALL the major participants in the Christmas event were present: angels and shepherds, the wise men, Anna and Simeon, the Innkeeper, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary…even a realistic, but robotic, baby Jesus. The production was a wonderful experience. Afterwards I felt as if I had actually seen the first Christmas through the eyes of the people of that day.
Now, we can’t put on a production like that here at Redland. I mean where would we put the camels! But on these four Advent Sundays, I want to ask God to open our spiritual eyes as a church so that with the use of His written Word, WE can look at this familiar story from the perspective of those people-those beings-who played pivotal roles in that wonderful event that occurred when time became full. And I want to begin with the characters in the Lancaster production that fascinated me the most…the ANGELS.
Now, I guess I knew angels would be in the show but I wasn’t expecting them do be portrayed in such a “heavenly” manner. I mean, they flew-suspended by wires of course-but they flew all around the theater. They were dressed in long, white-gold-trimmed robes, sporting huge wings. The first time they showed up I was startled-I mean I didn’t expect any actors to be capable of flight-but from then on in the three-hour production I eagerly anticipated their next appearance.
I kept reviewing in my mind the next time that Scripture said angels were to show up. And I was never disappointed.
The actors played their role as angelic beings so well that it awakened in me a new fascination with angels: their beauty, their ability to soar not just through the air but limitless distances through time and space, their great power, but most of all, their nearness to God Himself. And, you know I’m not alone in my admiration of these heavenly beings, for in the past few years there has been an EXPLOSION of interest in ANGELS in our culture. These days angels are admired by millions of people, many of them not Christians, and not just during the Christmas season but all year long. Perhaps this is due to baby boomers’s hunger for spiritual meaning in life-I don’t know-but interest in ANGELS is seen literally everywhere. TV shows like Angel and Touched By An Angel are extremely popular. Movies like Angels in the Outfield and City of Angels scored big bucks at the box office. Entire stores are devoted to selling angelic nicknacks. Dozens of books like Ask Your Angel and A Book of Angels are on best seller lists. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reports that “with angel catalogs, angel seminars, angel pins, angel newsletters and angels sightings…it looks like the winged ones have left the cosmic back lot for the forefront of popular consciousness.”
And, as Christians I think we should note that although our CULTURE is fascinated with angels, THE CHURCH has remained oddly silent about them. In his best-selling book on angels, Billy Graham wrote that he had never heard a sermon on angels, despite having read of “literally thousands” of personal accounts of people seeing these amazing beings. In fact, FALLEN angels-Satan and his minions-excite more curiosity in church pulpits and class rooms than do those of the heavenly variety.
But, you know, the silence of Christians on this topic is not a good thing because, without a SCRIPTURALLY-based understanding of angels, there is a great danger for if we are not careful, we can become susceptible to the influence of the FALLEN ANGEL. Yes, the devil can ensnare us as easily through “angelism”as he can through materialism or sexual lust or power-hunger. Remember Scripture warns that “Satan himself MASQUERADES as an angel of light.” (II Corinthians 11:14 ) And he has done this well. Down through the ages the Devil has scored some of his greatest triumphs in the guise of angels. In the year 610 the oppressive religion of Islam was born when Muhammad received the contents of the Koran in a series of visions from someone he believed to be the angel Gabriel. Twelve centuries later the deceptive sect known as Mormonism arose when a supposed angel called “Moroni” led Joseph Smith to write the Book of Mormon. I think it was this particular danger is what motivated Paul to caution the Galatian believers against “even an angel from heaven” coming to preach another “gospel.” (Galatians 1:8 )
You see, not all that purports to be angelic is necessarily Christian. Secular books like Ask Your Angels are immersed in the occult and New Age thinking. A stronger belief in angels is no guarantee of greater understanding of God’s truth-in fact if we are not very careful just the opposite will be true.
Well, since there IS a danger associated with a preoccupation with angels, let’s pause to consider some warnings we should heed if we pursue an interest in them.
1. First of all, we must not ignore Scripture and create or reshape angels according to our own fancy.
Most of the angelic representations we see today in paintings and gift books or as lapel pins or china figurines are merely the product of human imagination. They are not at all in line with what God’s Word says about angels.
- For example, whenever gender is indicated in reference to angels in the Bible, it is always masculine. Don’t ask me why but there are no FEMALE angels mentioned in Scripture.
- Nor do angels ever appear in the Bible as an animal or bird, as we sometimes see in angelic folklore these days.
- And…according to the Bible, angels are a CREATED class of beings, not spiritually progressed humans. In other words, people don’t “evolve” or transform into angels when they die. One popular children’s book on angels includes this quote: “Heaven is a place where girls get turned into angels…and then God tries to do the best He can with the boys.” Well, that’s cute but the Bible never says anything like this…human girls have no more chance of becoming angels than human boys do. In fact, the Bible teaches that from God’s perspective we are a higher level of creation than angels. Psalm 8:5 says that we are created only a little lower than our Heavenly Father. No, as Romans 8:29 says, it is the destiny of Christians not to turn into angels but to be “conformed to the likeness of God’s Son.” (Romans 8:29)
- Another thing — there isn’t any verse in Scripture that teaches that angels spend time earning their wings like that beloved old angel Clarence did in the film, It’s A Wonderful Life. In fact in the Bible only two classes of angels are mentioned as having wings: cherubim and seraphim.
- We should also note that there is no indication in Scripture that angels age. So there are no “littlest angels” going through their growing up years in the clouds. No, God’s angels exist eternally. The angel Gabriel who appeared to Daniel was the same unchanged angel Gabriel who appeared more than five hundred years later to Mary and Zechariah.
So, the first thing anyone must do if they are interested in angels is steer clear of modern make-believe and trust only the Bible’s teaching on the subject. And then, a second warning that we should heed if we are pursuing this interest is this…
2. …we must never let angels replace God in our lives.
This is a trap that people who do not know God personally can easily fall into because so often God is pictured as only punitive, judgmental, and demanding and angels are never these things. As Time magazine once said, people these days see angels as “all fluff and meringue, kind, nonjudgmental and available to everyone, like aspirin.” You see, for many people, it is more appealing to relate to a friendly angel than a demanding God. They want help from an angelic companion when they are pinned behind the wheel in an auto accident but they get uneasy at the thought of opening up their entire lives to the Sovereign GOD Who drew near in the Incarnation.
Many Americans prefer tamer divinities and your own personal angel ready to answer to your every beck and call more than fits the bill. But, this preference for angels over our Creator is an insult to God. Remember His command in Exodus 20:3-5 ? “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything IN HEAVEN ABOVE or on the earth beneath…” Even something as holy as an angel in heaven is never to be turned into an idol. And this leads directly to the third warning principle we must heed when it comes to studying angels….
3. …they must never receive our worship.
In Colossians 2:18 Paul speaks against “anyone who delights in…the worship of angels.” In the next verse he warned that people who do this are no longer spiritually whole for they have “…lost connection with [Christ, Who is] the Head.” (Colossians 2:19 ) Now, the sight of angels IS awe-inspiring beyond what we can imagine so it is easy for our admiration of the power they possess to lead us down the road to worshiping them. Maybe this is one reason angels are almost always invisible, so we won’t be tempted in this way. Even the Apostle John failed in this area. Late in his life, while in exile on the island of Patmos, he was given the visions recorded in the book of Revelation — visions filled with angels. After one ecstatic scene of heavenly worship at the wedding supper of the Lamb-recorded in Revelation 19- an angel turned to John and asked him to write these words: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” The angel then added, “These are the true words of God.” At once, John “fell at his feet to worship” this angel and the angel’s rebuke was quick. In Revelation 19:10 he says, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus…do not worship me. Worship God!” (Revelation 22:9 )
Karl Barth once wrote, “It is inappropriate for people to talk of angels independent of their experience of God in Christ. While God may send angels, gratitude must always be directed to God, the God we know in Christ.” He is right, for angel worship is no more acceptable to God than the worship of money or power or self-indulgence.
Okay,enough of the warnings…who or what exactly are angels?
With so much misinformation we need to again turn to the Bible to find an answer to that question. And the Bible has a great deal to say about angels. In fact these amazing beings are mentioned 273 times in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. An angel led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Angels announced the birth and resurrection of Jesus. And the Bible tells us that when Our Lord returns He will be accompanied by hosts of angels. Although they belong to a uniquely different dimension of creation than we who are limited to the natural order can comprehend…as I alluded to earlier…Scripture teaches that angels are created beings. They did not come about as the hierarchy of some evolutionary process. No. God MADE them just as He made you and me.
The Biblical record shows that angels have the ability to change their appearance and shuttle in a flash from the capital glory of heaven to earth and back again. God’s Word also makes it clear that angels are non-material. Hebrews 1:14 calls them “ministering SPIRITS.” Angels don’t possess physical bodies although they may take them on when God appoints them to special tasks…as He did when He sent the three angels to speak with Abraham in Genesis 18 . The Bible also says that angels have no ability to reproduce and neither marry, nor are given in marriage, which would make sense if they are all male.
They are also obviously very powerful beings which is why, “Fear not” is what they usually say when they reveal themselves to people. Three angels had the God-given ability to blind ALL the men of Sodom. One was strong enough to move a four-ton stone from the entrance to the tomb of Jesus. Exodus 14 records that another angel held of the entire army of the Pharaoh of Egypt at bay. Another killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. They are incredibly powerful beings!
What the Bible says …
But you know….the best way to understand who or what angels are is to look at what the Bible says they DO…
1. First of all, these amazingly powerful beings deliver, protect, and defend God’s people.
Psalm 34:7 says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them.” Biblical examples of this aspect of angelic activity is seen when Daniel was thrown in the lion’s den and God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions or the time Peter was in prison and God sent an angel to free him.
A more current instance though is seen in the story told by Corrie ten Boom of rebels advancing on a school in Africa where 200 children and missionaries lived. The rebels planned to kill both children and the missionary teachers. In the school they knew of the approaching danger and so they went to their knees in prayer asking for God’s intervention. Their only physical protection was a fence and a couple of government soldiers whereas the rebels had hundreds of troops. But, when the rebels closed in on the school, they turned around and ran away. The next day they came back and the same thing happened and it happened again on the third day. A few days later, one of the rebels was wounded and was brought to the mission hospital. When the doctor dressed his wounds, he asked him: “Why did you not attack the school as you planned?” He replied, “We could not do it. Each time, we saw hundreds of soldiers in white uniforms and we became scared.” Corrie reports that in Africa soldiers never wear white uniforms, but we know Whose army does! One thing God’s angels DO is protect us and this is what God promised in Psalm 91 . He said that He “…will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”
2. And then angels also provide guidance from God.
Remember the angel God sent to Hagar after she had run away from Abraham and Sarah? In Genesis 16:7-9 the angel directed her saying, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” Angels guided Lot and his family to leave Sodom and to not look back. Another angel told Jacob it was time to leave the lands of his father-in-law, Laban, and return home. An angel of the Lord guided Cornelius to Peter where he would learn how to come to faith in Christ. Angels give guidance from God.
3. They also provide comfort and encouragement.
Remember the angel that came to Elijah as he was running through the desert trying to get away from Jezebel? That angel provided food and water for this weary prophet of God. How about the time when Daniel was an old man and an angel appeared to him? The angel had come to tell him what would happen to the people of Israel in the future. But Daniel was too weary to hear the message. He said, “My strength is gone. I can barely breath.” The angel touched him and said,
“Do not be afraid, Oh man highly esteemed. Peace! Be strong now. Be strong!” And Daniel said, “Speak now…since you have given me strength.” (Daniel 10:4-19 ) Angels ministered to Jesus after His temptation in the desert and in the Garden of Gesthemane before His arrest and crucifixion. (Luke 22:43 ) As Hebrews 1:14 says, Angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve Christians.” John Calvin once wrote, “In creating angels, God must have had our interests in mind….[for] God employees [them] simply as a help to our weakness in order to elevate our hopes or strengthen our confidence.” Angels do provide us with God’s comfort and strength…
4. And then angels often also serve as God’s agents of judgement.
The Bible repeatedly shows that throughout history angels have worked to carry out God’s verdicts, directing the destinies of nations and individuals who were disobedient to Him. For example God used angels in scattering the people of Israel because of their sins. He also used angels in bringing judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and eventually on Babylon and Nineveh.
Remember? It was an angel that God sent to kill the first born of Egypt to force stubborn Pharaoh to free the people of Israel. Acts 12 says that an angel of the Lord killed the wicked King Herod Agrippa because he did not give God the glory when his people praised him saying that he spoke as a god.
So, Angels protect and defend God’s people. They provide us with His guidance and comfort. They serve as His agents of judgement.
5. But….the MAIN THING angels do is serve as God’s messengers.
In fact, that is what the word, “angel” means. So their primary task is to be couriers, “celestial mailmen” delivering God’s communications to us like some sort of liaison officers. Angels were fulfilling this role when they told the wife of Manoah that she would have a son named SAMSON and when they informed Elizabeth that she would have a child named JOHN. They were bringing God’s message when the women came to the tomb of Jesus and the angels said, “He is not here. He has risen just as He said.” They were delivering God’s mail when they appeared to Paul on a ship in the middle of the storm-tossed Mediterranean Sea and said, “Don’t be afraid, you must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” (Acts 27:13-26 )
As messengers, angels had a special part in giving us the Bible. Both Stephen and Paul (Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19 ) speak of the Old Testament Law as being “put into effect through angels.”
And the writer of Hebrews calls his epistle, “the message spoken by angels.” (2:2) When Moses remembered how God came to Mount Sinai to give him the law, he said God arrived “with myriads of holy ones” — angels. (Deuteronomy 33:2 )
Now, the most important thing I think we should note at this point is that the ministry of the angels is a reflection of the CHARACTER of God Himself. Psalm 103:20 says, “Praise the Lord, you His angels, you mighty ones who do HIS bidding, who obey HIS word.” You see, apart from God angels can do nothing and are nothing. Their very “food and drink” is to do God’s will and accomplish His work. So, as David Jeremiah says in his book on angels, that means that when they give us strength or enlightenment, it is God’s strength or enlightenment. Their encouragement is God’s encouragement. Their guidance is God’s guidance. Their protection is God’s protection. When they bring comfort, it is God’s comfort they offer. When they bring wrath it is God’s wrath they inflict. Their messages are God’s messages to us…and at this time each year of course, we celebrate the GREATEST MESSAGE angels ever conveyed…the astounding words they brought us from God on that first Christmas night.
The Angel Gabriel …
Look at verses 31-33 of today’s text, The Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said that her Child, “would be the Son of the Most High” and His name was to be “Jesus.” In these words, Gabriel conveyed two wonderful truths from God.
1. First of all Mary’s Child-born without a human father-would be God Himself.
He was to be God’s offspring in a way no other person has been, either before or since. Gabriel was saying that God was about to do what an angel had never done — actually BECOME a human being. He didn’t just temporarily take on the form of a man like angels had done from time to time. No, as John’s Gospels proclaims, “The WORD [literally] became flesh…and dwelt among us.” You see, in Jesus-and only in Jesus-God became one of us. Like you and me He got hungry and thirsty. His feet ached and He got weary from traveling. When struck, He bruised; When He was sad, He wept; When He was happy, He smiled. When He was angry, He revealed it. When He got cold, He chilled. When hot, He perspired. He needed sleep and refreshment. As the man, Jesus, God came down to our level. He went through our human experience and so as it says in Hebrews 4:15, “In Jesus, we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but One who has been tempted in all things as we are yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.”
That wonderful angelic message said that in Jesus, God would become touchable, approachable!
Max Lucado writes, “Think about the implications of this. When God chose to reveal Himself to us…what medium did He use? A book…no that was secondary. A church? No. That was consequential. A moral code? No. To limit God’s revelation to a cold list of do’s and don’ts is as tragic as looking at a Colorado road map and saying that you’d seen the Rockies. When God chose to reveal Himself, He did so (surprise of surprises) through a human body. The tongue that called forth the dead was a human one. The hand that touched the leper had dirt under its nails. The feet upon which the woman wept were calloused and dusty. And His tears…oh, don’t miss the tears…they came from a heart as broken as yours or mine has ever been.”
This is why people came to Jesus so readily, why they touched Him as He walked down a street or followed Him all the way around the Sea of Galilee or invited Him into their homes or placed their children at His feet. Because by becoming one of us, God made Himself approachable. He refused to be a statue in a cathedral or a priest in an elevated pulpit. He became a man.
2. And then the angel’s message to Mary also conveyed a second thing: the reason for this amazing descent.
His name foretold His PURPOSE in becoming a man for “Jesus” means, “Jehovah saves.” The angel who appeared to Mary’s betrothed-JOSEPH-said as much…that they were to name the child Jesus because His life purpose was to “…save His people from their sins.”
The MOST wonderful news that Christmas night was not so much That Jesus was born but WHY He was born. You see, there was no salvation in His birth nor did the sinless way He lived His life have any redemptive force of it’s own. His example, as flawless as it was, could not rescue men from their sins. Even His teaching-the greatest truth ever revealed to man, could not save us because there was a price to be paid for our sins. Someone had to die. And only Jesus could do it.
Jesus came to earth of course to reveal God to mankind. He came to teach truth. He came to fulfill the Law. He came to offer His kingdom. He came to show us how to live. He came to reveal God’s love. He came to bring peace — to heal the sick and minister to the needy. But all those reasons are incidental to His ultimate purpose. He could have done them all without being born as a human. He could have simply appeared-like the angel of the Lord often did in the Old Testament-and accomplished everything in the above list without literally becoming a man. But He had one more reason for coming: He came to die. So, as John MacArthur writes,
“Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that some day men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear.”
Jesus WAS born to die…for your sins…for my sins…for the sins of all mankind. As Matthew 20:28 says, “The Son of Man came….to give His life as a ransom for many.”
So, the message that the angel delivered that first Christmas night was that God loved us — very much — enough in fact to He came down to our level. He lived a sinless life and died in our stead so that we could know Him, walk through life at His side, experiencing the joy of fellowship with our Creator, and have the peace that comes from knowing that even death has lost it’s sting.
No wonder a choir of angels broke out in spontaneous song that night, while shepherds looked on in slack-jawed wonder!
You know, at the conclusion of the presentation in Lancaster the narrator invited people in the audience to respond to the message of the Christmas story. They did a very good job of using that teachable moment to encourage people to accept God’s great gift of salvation by repenting of their sins, seeking His forgiveness through Jesus, and committing to follow Him as Savior and Lord. And this morning I want to do the same thing because the angelic message that night was for you! And if you have never responded to it by becoming a Christian, I invite you to this morning. You may already be a Christian though and feel God leading you to acknowledge to this morning’s message by joining us as we spread this wonderful angelic news. But, whatever decision you have to make we encourage you to do so now by walking forward as we sing and sharing that commitment with me or Steve.