Intro – angels in the Christmas story – People tend to be away in January and so I thought I’d have an interlude, well sort of, from the series I’ve been doing on the tabernacle. It is also the Christmas season and something has always struck me whenever I read the Christmas story – that is the flurry of angelic activity. We do not read a lot about angels in the Bible but in the nativity story they are suddenly everywhere!
1. [Luke 1:8-20] [P] An old priest called Zacharias was offering incense at the hour of prayer and an angel appeared to him and told his that his barren wife was going to have a baby who they were to call John who would prepare the way of the Lord
2. [Luke 1:26-38] [P] Then an angel appeared to a virgin called Miriam and told her that she would have a son who she was to name Jesus, who would be the Son of the Most High and be given the throne of David. He also told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the Most High would overshadow her and cause her to conceive this child – thus her son would be called the Son of God!
3. [Matthew 1:18-24] [P] So Miriam became pregnant and this became known. Her fiancé was concerned about this and was going to send her away – then an angel appeared to Joseph and told him to take Miriam as his wife because Miriam conceived the child by the Holy Spirit.
4. [Luke 2:8-20] [P] We know the story that caused Miriam to give birth to her Son in a stable in Bethlehem. God had been born as a baby boy on earth! Momentous news! As the prophet Isaiah had foretold in [Isaiah 40:9] “Behold your God!” It was a momentous occasion! Heaven had come down to earth and heaven announced this auspicious event! Angels announced – not to the king and nobles, the priests or religious, but to some shepherds in the field. “Hark the herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn King!”” First an angel then a whole army of them, praising God!
5. [Luke 2:21] [P] According to the Jewish law the first born son was circumcised on the eighth day and given the name “Jesus” – the name that the angel told them to name Him.
6. [Matthew 2:13-14] [P] The child was born but king Herod wanted to kill the child, so an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take the child and its mother to Egypt to escape.
7. [Matthew 2:19-21] [P] King Herod died and it was safe to return and an angel appeared to Joseph, again in a dream, and told him to go to the land of Israel.
Angels – what are they – You get a bit of a clue about what the business of angels is: [P] “told”, “told”, “told” …. – the are messengers. They relay messages from God to earth. Angels [P] – “angel” comes straight from the Greek word “ἀγγελος” – a noun from the verb meaning “to announce” – they are those that announce a message, messengers – in fact it can simply be a human messenger. The Hebrew word you know – the book Malachi means “my angel” or my messenger. It is one who is sent with a message, an envoy. In both Biblical languages “angel” means “messenger” [P]. Angels are messenger boys. But they are spirit beings. We, in the naturalistic world view that pervades, overlook that there is a whole spiritual realm that cannot be measured and analysed by science. There are spiritual beings – Haydn and others in the fellowship can probably tell you stories of angelic intervention. Quite possibly we have all had angelic intervention in our lives without being aware of it – Hebrews says that angels are: [Heb 1:14 ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?] – this tells us two things: they are spirits [P], and they minister or serve [P] – they are spirit beings that serve God. Back along there was an occasion where I also think it was angels that twice came to my aid – I toyed with telling the story, it would be an interesting illustration but there are a couple of dangers: Firstly there can be pride – being superior because you have had this experience – in fact it was because I was dumb enough to inadvertently put my life in danger and I guess God still had things for me to do which I hadn’t yet done. I have been in circles where there was a subtle spiritual pride and superiority in those who had had special revelations, visions of heaven etc. that lesser Christians like me had never had – it is the same thing spiritual pride that the Gnostics had, they were on an upper level with superior knowledge. This was the Gnostic worship that had infiltrated the Colossian church, worshipping angels instead of Jesus, the Head. [Colossians 2:18-19 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.] Secondly you can get more interested in the story about angels than the message about Jesus! It seems of recent days there has burgeoned a fascination with angels, even TV programs about them. They are glorious, majestic supernatural beings and it is easy to get taken up by them but we must avoid the temptation. And we see it today – people who stress their spiritual revelations and experiences – they are given more prominence than the revelation of Jesus in Scripture. An encounter with an angel may be awe inspiring and glorious – but we must be careful that they are relegated to their proper place – they are servants. People get more excited about angels than they do about Jesus! Even the apostle John was overwhelmed: [Revelation 19:9-10 Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ ” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”] Then again in [Revelation 22:8-9 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.”] They are just servants – Jesus is far superior – don’t shift your eyes off of Him, don’t let yourself become distracted. So God has these spirit beings serving Him – they surround His throne, awaiting order to do His bidding. Some are glorious and awe-inspiring in appearance like the one John saw but angels may appear just like men. [P] [Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.] so they probably didn’t have wings – I think you would have been aware they were angels if they had wings sprouting out the back! That passage in Hebrews may have been referring to Abraham [Genesis 18:2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth,] talks about 3 men who he entertained but in [Genesis 19:1 Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.] where two of them visit Sodom we read that they are angels.
Specific types of angels – So they appeared just like men – but some angelic beings do have wings. There are the Seraphim of Isaiah, [P] remember chapter 6? “In the year that king Ussiah died I saw the seraphim high and lifted up” No! He saw יְהוָה high and lifted up: [Isaiah 6:1-3 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw יְהוָה sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is יְהוָה of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”] There are glorious beings but יְהוָה is the one that is higher and more glorious! Hallelujah! The seraphim had six wings and may well be the same as the 6 winged “living creatures” described in [Revelation 4:6-9 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the centre and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” And when the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,] – you notice that their business is giving praise, glory and worship to יְהוָה .
Cherubim – what they are like – Like the seraphim, cherubim had wings also. [P] Some people call their little child a dear cherub, if they have more than one they have cherubim! But they don’t look anything like those depictions you see in religious paintings. They are fearsome creatures. In an earlier talk we saw that cherubim had a guarding role [P] [Genesis 3:24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.]. Ezekiel 10 talks about cherubim who were around יְהוָה’s throne – it is evident that they are the same creatures called “living beings” in Ezekiel 1 and described there, they have certain similarities to the Seraphim but only had four wings. I am not going to interpret the following passage from Ezekiel 1, I don’t think I could! You can analyse Scripture (that tends to be my approach, analytical) some interpret allegorically (I am not comfortable with that) but you know sometimes it is good just to read the passage and feel the force of it. It reminds me of the study of books we did at school – you’d look at the theme, the style, the characters – and in the process you lost the whole appreciation of the book – it had been analysed to bits. No better way to spoil a joke than to explain it. So without explanations let’s read a get the impact of this vision that Ezekiel had: [Ezekiel 1:5-12 Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies. And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they went.]. What impression did you get? Have you ever tried to draw a picture of what Ezekiel described? [P] You can’t do it – he is describing the indescribable! Something utterly glorious and overwhelming! Heavenly! [P] You may not be able to picture it but it is GLORIOUS and AWESOME! In Ezekiel 10 יְהוָה’s glory leaves His temple because of the sin of the nation – wherever יְהוָה’s glory went so did the cherubim (homework read Ezekiel 1 and 10, 11). Cherubim have to do with GLORY! [P] [P] They were right their in יְהוָה’s holy presence worshipping Him and guarding that holy presence from unauthorized entry, forbidding entry of that which was not holy. Did you know that satan was one of the cherubim? A description of Him before his fall shows you what they are like. [Ezekiel 28:12-19 ‘Thus says the Lord יְהוָה, “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. “You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the ruby, the topaz and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared. “You were the anointed cherub who covers (remember they were on the kapporet), and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you. “By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendour. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you. “By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries. Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; it has consumed you, and I have turned you to ashes on the earth in the eyes of all who see you. “All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have become terrified and you will cease to be forever.” ’ ]
Cherubim in the tabernacle – We have been looking at the Tabernacle – when you got near יְהוָה there were cherubim. We have looked at the ark and the kapporet, the holy of holies – but when you enter you are surrounded by cherubim – glory!: on the veil in front of the holy of holies [P] [Exodus 26:31 “You shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman.]; on the tabernacle itself, that is the inner tent – you look up on the ceiling there were more cherubim [P] [Exodus 26:1 “Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skilful workman.]; then over the ark on the kapporet [P] [Exodus 25:18-22 “You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the kapporet. “Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the kapporet at its two ends. “The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the kapporet with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the kapporet. “You shall put the kapporet on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. “There I will meet with you; and from above the kapporet, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.] This is what Watchman Nee says about [Exodus 25:22 “There I will meet with you; and from above the kapporet, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.] What is the basis of our communion with יְהוָה? It is His glory. At the mercy-seat with its shadowing cherubim we have fellowship with God, and they are “cherubim of glory”. It is in the place where יְהוָה’s glory is manifested, with its implied judgement upon man, that we find mercy – there and there alone. Cannot God, being God, show mercy where He will? No, He can only show mercy where His moral glory is also maintained. He does not divorce the mercy-seat (remember the kapporet, the place of atonement) from the cherubim. It is the shed blood that makes communion possible for sinful man. Because of it God can show mercy without violating His glory because sin has been atoned for; He can commune with man without denying Himself. Thus the blood of Christ is essential to fellowship, absolutely essential. Nevertheless it is not the basis of fellowship. When I commune with God at His mercy-seat it is not upon the precious blood I gaze, but on the glory. The veil is taken away, and with unveiled face we behold the glory of God. “Between the wings of the Cherubim, I will meet with you” – we used to sing it but it is taken straight from [Exodus 25:22 “There I will meet with you; and from above the kapporet, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to.]
A greater glory! – There you are in the holy of holies “We are standing on holy ground, and I know there are angels all around, let us praise Jesus now, for we are standing on holy ground” – cherubim are all around – on the veil, on the ceiling, on the ark. Glorious! Heavenly glory! [P] But these angelic beings in all their glory are nothing compared to the greater glory. [P] Their glory only goes to set off the greater glory of the one who is enthroned above the cherubim! They are spirits and they serve. Who would you rather meet the Queen or one of her ladies in waiting? They are glorious but there is One who is more glorious! [Psalm 99:1 יְהוָה reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake!] Their overwhelming glory pales into insignificance beside the One who is way above them! [Hebrews 1:2-7 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, (not through messenger boys) whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins (at the kapporet), He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You”? And again, “I will be a Father to Him and He shall be a Son to Me”? And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “And let all the angels of God worship Him.” And of the angels He says, “Who makes His angels winds, And His ministers (or “servants”) a flame of fire.”] [Hebrews 1:13-14 But to which of the angels has He ever said, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies A footstool for Your feet”? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?] [Hebrews 2:9 we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour,] Angels may be glorious, but we worship one who is far more glorious. In that holy of holies we meet not with cherubim but with יְהוָה Himself – we see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! Praise His Name! [P] “Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight, and all the twinkling starry host; Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer than all the angels heaven can boast.”