95) Who Needs Angels? (part three)

      Here are seven things I know about angels and this is enough for me:

#1 — God doesn’t need angels.  He can everything by himself.  God is all-powerful.  God never gets tired.  God is our refuge and strength, says Psalm 46.  Whatever we see angels do anywhere in the Bible, we also see God doing in other Bible stories.  God can give us whatever we need without angels.

#2 — Even though God doesn’t need angels, He has created them and he does give them work to do.  That is also clear in the Bible: 300 times God uses angels to do his work in the world.

#3 — God does not need angels, and God does not need you or me either.  If we look at angels only in terms of what God needs, we find they are not necessary; but then, neither are we necessary. However, in his love, God has created angels, and you and me and all humans, and chipmunks, and monkeys and elephants, and a whole host of other living creatures in this magnificent creation, both on earth and in the heavenly realms.  God did not need to create any of this.

#4 — God does not need angels or any of us, but in his love he has given us all life, AND, he has given us all some things to do, angels and humans alike.  Again, not because God needs us to do these things, for he can do all things in heaven and on earth.  But he has created us in a certain way, and arranged life in a certain way, so that it is best lived when we are obedient and do serve him with what he has given us.  It is a privilege to serve God with what he has given us, whether it is our time, our talents, or our financial resources.  So also it is with angels.  There is not one verse in the Bible that tells of angels just sitting around in heaven with nothing to do but play harps.  That is the cartoon image of angels, not the Biblical image.  Angels in the Bible are always doing something– serving their Creator God by doing something that He has given them to do.  Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”  We, and the angels, are created beings of the same God.  And He has given all of us opportunities to serve.

#5 —  We serve God best by serving in such a way that God receives the glory and not us.  Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and PRAISE YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  The idea is that others will see our faith in action and will want to know about the God who inspires such faith and works.  The focus of all that we do as individuals or as a church should be on God and not on ourselves, and so we ought not be concerned about whether or not we receive adequate credit or praise.

#6 — The angels do this so well that we are not even aware they are there.  Angels have no doubt been present in my life and in yours, helping us along, giving us a lift, guiding us, encouraging us; doing the same kinds of things they do for ordinary folks in the Bible.  But they stay out of the way, invisible even, so that all the glory is given to God.  And the glory ought to go to God, the Creator of the angels.  The fact that we do not think usually about angels or see them and can even, for the most part, ignore them in the Bible and in our lives is proof that they are doing their job well, and God receives the glory.  Whatever angels do in the Bible points us not to the angels but to God.

#7 —  There is a lesson there for all of us, who, like the angels, are called on to serve God.  In our service to the church and to others we should be more concerned about God getting the credit than we ourselves.  Oftentimes, we want to make sure that we are recognized, that we are appreciated, and that we look good; and we might be disappointed and hurt if that does not happen.  But the more credit we get, the less glory God gets.  I have heard many stories of missionaries who left their homes and families and friends to go to faraway places and endure great hardships, all in order to serve others and bring God’s Word to them.  When asked by those they serve why they were willing to sacrifice so much, the missionaries do not say ‘because I am such a good person,’ but rather, they say it is because they believe in a wonderful and loving God who saves us and then sends us out to serve others.  And I have talked to many people from other countries who came to faith in Christ because of just such a witness.  That is serving like an angel:  serving in such a way that God receives the glory. Angels provide an excellent model for this kind of service, and this, I believe, is the main thing we can learn from them.  They are working overtime for us, and we don’t even know they are there.  May we also be such obedient and humble servants.

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Hebrews 13:2  —  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Psalm 8:3-5  —  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars,  which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?  You have made them a little lower than the angels  and crowned them with glory and honor.

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Now as you go on your way, may God go with you.  May he go before you to show you the way; may he go behind you to encourage you; beside you to befriend you; above you to watch over you; and within you to give you peace.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   –10th century benediction

94) Who Needs Angels? (part two)

     (continued…)   I want to focus my attention on Jesus and not angels, but if we are to learn about life from Jesus, then perhaps we should pay at least some attention to angels.  At the very beginning of the story of Jesus we see all those angels.  And when Jesus grew to be a man and was teaching the people about God, he also had some important things to say about angels.   And the Gospels tell us that at key times the adult Jesus was strengthened and sustained by the presence of angels.  So, we may not need to focus on angels very much, but we do need to pay them some attention and at least look at what the Bible says about them.

     There are four main types of references to angels in the Bible.

     First of all, they appear as messengers, as Gabriel appears to Mary to announce the coming of Jesus. Angels also appear as messengers to Abraham, Gideon, Paul, and to the women at the tomb of Easter morning, to mention just a few of many examples.

     The second type of reference in the Bible to angels is when they appear to comfort or sustain or rescue someone in need.  They appeared to Jesus after his forty days of fasting and temptations in the wilderness.  An angel appeared in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, protecting them from the flames.  Angels came to be with Daniel in the Lion’s den, shutting the mouths of the hungry lions.  And an angel appeared to the apostle Peter when he was in jail, opening the locked doors to release him.

     The third type of angelic appearance shows them engaged in the ongoing battle against Satan in the great cosmic struggle between good and evil.  There is some of this in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, and a great deal of it in the New Testament book of Revelation.

     This type of appearance is closely related to the fourth type of reference, and that is how angels play a major role in visions of the end times, such as in Revelation and Daniel and some of the other Old Testament prophetic books.

     We won’t look at all 300 specific Biblical references to angels, but this is a summary of the types of appearances they make and purposes they serve.

     But this still does not speak to my own primary response to all of the references angels, which is, to put it bluntly, ‘so what?’  There is much to study in the Bible, and angels will never be at the top of my priority list.  I have never seen an angel, and no matter how much I know about angels from the Bible, I also know enough from the Bible to know that I can continue to seek my guidance, protection, comfort, strength, and hope directly from God himself.  So I haven’t paid much attention to angels, but the little bit I have learned, I will tell you in tomorrow‘s meditation. (continued…)

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Genesis 28:11-12  —  When (Jacob) reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.  He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Psalm 91:11  —  He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

Hebrews 1:14  —  Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

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MARTIN LUTHER’S ORDER FOR EVENING PRAYERS–from the Small Catechism

In the evening, when you retire, make the sign of the cross and say, “In the
name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”
Then, kneeling or standing, say the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

Then you may say this prayer:  “I give Thee thanks, heavenly
Father, through thy dear Son Jesus Christ, that Thou hast this day
graciously protected me.  I beseech Thee to forgive all my sin and the wrong
which I have done.  Graciously protect me during the coming night.  Into
thy hands I commend my body and soul and all that is mine.  Let thy holy
angels have charge of me, that the wicked one may have no power over me.  Amen.”  

Then quickly lie down and sleep in peace.

93) Who Needs Angels? (part one)

Gabriel making the Annunciation to the Virgin ...

Gabriel making the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. Painting by El Greco, 1575

     At the heart of the Christian faith is the life of Jesus Christ.  This story of Jesus’ life on earth does not begin in a manger in Bethlehem.  Rather, it begins in Nazareth, another village 70 miles north of Bethlehem, the home town of Mary and Joseph.  And the story begins not with a birth, but with the announcement of a pregnancy.  And the first character to appear in the story is not Jesus, or Mary or Joseph, or any shepherds or wise men; but rather, the first character to appear is an angel.  Here is how it all began as told in Luke 1:26-28:  “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.’”

     Not only are angels the first to appear and the first to speak, angels make more appearances in the nativity story than anyone else.  The angels also have, by far, the most speaking parts.  Our favorite Christmas carols reflect their ongoing presence, hymns such as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  In almost every nativity scene there is at least one angel.

     Think about all parts angels play in the story.  In Luke 1, at the very beginning of the story, it is an angel that announces to Mary the fact of her miraculous conception, and the wonder of who that child is that is growing in her womb.  It was an angel that appeared to the heart-broken and confused Joseph, explaining to him how it was God who was working in this strange and embarrassing and wondrous situation.  It was then a whole multitude of angels that announced the birth to the shepherds, filling the night sky with their songs of praise.  And it was an angel who warned Joseph of Herod’s wicked plan to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem, and told him to flee to Egypt.

     Who are these angels that are in every scene of the story of Jesus birth, and also fill the pages of the rest of the Bible?  Even though angels make over 300 appearances in the Bible, I have never taken much notice of them or had any desire to look into what they are all about.  Why should we be interested in angels?  Look at what angels do in the Bible.  They appear to give guidance, protection, comfort, and help, and that’s all just wonderful.  Of course, we all need all of that.  But the Bible also tells us that we can get all of that directly from God himself and his Word.  The Psalmist says God is our protector and strength.  Isaiah says God will carry us and sustain us.  In Matthew 28 Jesus himself says he will be with us to the very end of the age, and in Matthew 11 Jesus says he will help us bear our burdens.  And Timothy says that God’s Word, the Bible is our guide. So who needs angels?  They are all probably very nice, but unless one appears to me, I will continue focusing on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  (continued…)

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Luke 2:8-10  —  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Matthew 4:10-11  —  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written:  ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”  Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Psalm 148:2  —  Praise him, all his angels;  praise him, all his heavenly hosts.

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MARTIN LUTHER’S ORDER FOR MORNING PRAYER  –from the  Small Catechism

In the morning, when you rise, make the sign of the cross and say,
“In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”
Then, kneeling or standing, say the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

Then, you may say this prayer:
“I give Thee thanks, heavenly Father, through thy dear Son Jesus
Christ, that Thou hast protected me through the night from all harm and
danger.  I beseech Thee to keep me this day, too, from all sin and evil, that
in all my thoughts, words, and deeds I may please Thee.  Into thy hands I
commend my body and soul and all that is mine.  Let thy holy angel have
charge of me, that the wicked one may have no power over me.  Amen.”

After singing a hymn or whatever your devotion may suggest, you
should go to your work joyfully.