For the next few weeks I would like to talk about the characters and events that preceded Jesus’ birth, and we begin today with the angels. Next week it will be about Mary, then Joseph, then the Shepherds and Wise Men, and finally the baby.
If you think about an angel, what comes to your mind? A being with white-feather wings and a halo? During the Renaissance the artist Rafael envisioned angels as chubby little nude infants. Later, in the 19th century, they were painted as being soft, slim, feminine, and usually sad. But none of this is what the Bible describes.
In scripture, the visitation of an angel was always alarming and significant; it was not fat little flying-three-year-old that caused the guards at the tomb of Jesus to become scared to death and become “as stones” when they saw the angels. The angels almost always begin by saying ‘fear not.’ Why? Because their appearance is staggering, magnificent and unexpected. When the angel appeared to the parents of John the Baptist and Joseph and Mary, they were astounded!
At least four kinds of angels are spoken of in the Bible:
-Angels—messengers from God that appeared like young men with no wings or halos, etc.
-Cherubim—a two winged being—these were represented with their wings covering the ark of the covenant in the book of Exodus.
-Seraphim—six wings—as mentioned Isaiah and Ezekiel
-Fallen angels—or demons
Though not stated in the Bible, there appear to be Archangels, such as Michael and Gabriel—who are also the only ones we know by name.
So quickly, let’s look at two angels:
One of the most powerful, if not the most noteworthy, of the angels in the Bible is Michael. He is also described as “a great prince” in the book of Daniel. Bible stories illustrate how he courageously fights against evil spiritual forces, such as in Jude, where he fights with the devil over the body of Moses, and in Revelation, where he leads the other angels in battle against the wicked dragon.
The other angel is Gabriel. He is the most recognized one in the Bible, because he was the one God often sent for delivering important messages to God’s people. He had the privilege of appearing to Mary to reveal to her that she would bear the Christ Child. Luke 1:26-22 we are told:
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’”
Mary said "yes" to God's will, and told the Angel that she would do what God was asking of her. Mary is a model of trusting God and then humbly obeying. God may or may not send an angel, but He wants us, to have as much faith and trust as Mary did…..do you?
Gabriel previously informed Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth (Mary’s cousin) would bear a son — John the Baptist—who would prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were righteous, but were childless and old. Then, one day, as Zechariah is in the temple of the Lord burning incense, the Angel Gabriel appears with a message: Elizabeth would soon get pregnant and give birth to John the Baptist.
Later, an unnamed angle spoke to Joseph: “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”
Joseph decided to listen to the angel and trust God's word spoken to him through the angel. He decided to have faith that Mary indeed did not commit adultery and that both he and Mary, and the unborn child, would be protected by God from major consequences.
If you read the Bible, you will quickly see that angels do different things. Sometimes the give a message, at other times the shout praises to God and sometimes they even kill and destroy the enemies of God’s people. But they share a common purpose: they obey God and bring Him glory. And that is the purpose of all things He has created—-particularly you and me. Did you rise this morning prepared to obey Him? Did you come here, this very day, for the purpose of glorifying, or for some less noble or hidden purpose? As Psalm 103:20 declares, “Bless the Lord, all you his angels, mighty in strength, acting at his behest, obedient to his command.” Friends, in this regard, at the very least, we should be like angels!
So in the Christmas narrative, the angel, Gabriel, first came to the parents of John the Baptist and then to Mary. It was one angel—-the archangel Michael— but later, we’re told that another angel came and spoke to Joseph and shepherds about the baby, Jesus: “Shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem. They were taking turns watching their flock during the night. An angel from the Lord suddenly appeared to them. The glory of the Lord filled the area with light, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy.’ (Luke 2:8-10)
You see the pattern: A messenger from God comes to tell people something good, but people are initially scared to death. The angel didn’t come and threaten them, but his mere presence was terrifying! Why? Angels are perfect, blameless, holy beings, representing a perfect, blameless and holy God. When you are in the presence of something totally “out of this world” and completely spotless and sterling, it’s unnerving. Men don’t know what to do with something or someone from the Divine. Oftentimes when a human, sent by the Divine One, speaks for Him, the crowd is not happy or ready to embrace them, but quick to ask them to leave. Think of what happened when the crowd saw a man, once full of demons, delivered from demons—which then ran into pigs. What did the people do? They begged the holy One who caused it to happen, Jesus, to leave them alone!
Later, after the single angel told the shepherds about the birth of Jesus, he was joined by an army of angels, and they shouted (not sang) praises to God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:15-20 (NIV)
The final time the angels are mentioned in the Christmas story is when one again spoke to Joseph when Jesus was at least a year or two old. An angel told him to leave Judah and go to Egypt for a season. Later, and angel told him that it was safe to return to Judah. Joseph listened and the family stayed in Egypt until after Herod’s death. The angel said, “Those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
Now for the nearly 30 years there’s no mention of angels again until the end of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. At the end of the 40 days of fasting and tempting, God’s sent angels to “attend Him.”
The final time in the gospels were hear about angels is after the crucifixion of Jesus. The angels at the tomb are unnamed, but, again, are dazzling to see.
In the book of Acts an angel is sent to release Peter from Jail, and in Acts 12:23, “Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.’ Angels are not to be trifled with.
One of the most exhausting jobs of my parenting is to answer question after question from Tommy and Tyler. Things they don’t understand or have not been taught, or perhaps they’re just testing my intelligence. But sometimes I get tired of all the questions. Fortunately, God is not like me and He permits me to ask Him question after question. Sometimes He answers, sometimes He waits. But why does God send angels to speak to us at times? Why did He send these divine beings to strike people dead with a sword when He could just snap His fingers and do the work Himself?
Well, you might also ask why did God use Noah, Moses, Paul—-and you and me—-to do things He could easily, handily and perfectly accomplish on His own? I don’t know the answer to these things, but I do believe that there’s more going in with angels, demons, the forces of God and the tactics of Satan than we cannot see or grasp.
Joseph should have had his fiancee, Mary, stoned to death when she became pregnant. Anyone could have seen she was not faithful if she was pregnant. An angel intervened and told Joseph to hold off. Satan enticed Herod to kill the baby, so angels were sent to remove the baby from Bethlehem. Satan preyed upon Christ’s hunger and thirst in the dessert, but God sent angels to bring exactly what Jesus’ body needed to be restored.
My point is that it appears that the angels are fighting battles for God that we can’t see. They are God’s provision for us to protect us and to attend to us, as well as beings to keep a leash on the power of hell and demons.
Have you seen an angel? Has one attended you? Has God sent one of His messengers into your life, perhaps in disguise, to encourage—-or even to test you? The truth is, you probably don’t know. We’re told in Hebrews 13: 2” Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
This Christmas be kind to strangers. Praise God that He still intervenes to warn us, protect us and encourage us. He might sent one of His messengers to you today….