By Pastor Glenn Pease
The secular world has fallen in love with angels. Angels have become so popular in our culture that any book or movie on angels becomes an instant success. Two of the popular TV programs are about angels. Touched By An Angel, features an Irish angel who goes about helping people out of life's trials, and always has a successful conclusion. Every once in while she tells people she is an angel, and every so often she does something supernatural to prove it. But she is very conservative with her miracles, and you find yourself impatient with her for not intervening faster.
The other series called, Heaven Help Us is no longer on, but it had a lot of things not even remotely related to Biblical revelation, but it was well done and satisfied the current hunger for spiritual reality. The two angels are a young husband and wife who were killed in a plane crash. They are assigned tasks each week to help people in sort of crisis. It is made clear that their success in their good works will determine if they go to heaven or hell. It is a works salvation theme all the way. They are very nice angels and they always succeed.
These two programs are, or were, watched by millions, and have a positive message about angels. But they convey the false impression that people become angels at death,and that good works are a means of salvation. They do convey the truth that there is a spirit world that cares about this world and what happens to people. People long for this to be true. They do not want to trust Jesus as Savior, or submit to God's will, but they deeply desire to know that someone cares and is watching over them, and that death is not the end. This hunger for assurance of another world has led to numerous books on angels, and many of them are not from a Christian perspective. A number of modern artists are also into angels, and so the secular world is now competing with Christians in the exaltation of angels.
The revival of interest in angels is both good and bad. It is bad because of all the myths and false information, and the substituting of angels for God. This makes the angels into idols, and destroys the very essence of what real angels are all about--to increase the adoration of God, their Creator. The good side is that it opens the door for Christians to talk about the Biblical reality of angels, and how they, like the Christmas angels, point men to the Lord Jesus.
Angels play a major role in the theology of the three major religions of the world-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There are 109 references to angels in the Old Testament and 56 references to the Angel of the Lord. In the New Testament there are 188 references to angels. In the Koran there 101 references to angels. Angelology is a branch of theology in the great religions of the world. They also play a role in cults theology, and in the world of the occult. The new age is into angels, and so are religious nuts and wackos. In short, this is a subject that holds interest for most of mankind. You could spend the rest of your life studying angels and never exhaust what is available.
So much of what angels do is personal and subjective. You cannot capture angelic experiences on film, or get them to sign their autograph or pose for a picture. Hard objective evidence is hard to come by. But when you begin to add up the enormous number of witnesses who describe their encounters with angels, you are forced to recognize there is too much evidence to ignore their reality. I believe in angels because the Bible reveals them and not because of any personal experience. But Hope MacDonald has had many experiences with angels, and she wrote the book, When Angels Appear. She is a pastor's wife, and her book was published by Zondervan, an evangelical publishing house.
She started her encounter with angels at age 4. Her sister Marilyn was struck by a car and thrown 20 feet into the air. She was rolling full speed into a large open sewer when all of the sudden she stopped right on the edge. No one could understand how that could happen, but the sister said, "But didn't you see that huge beautiful angel standing in the sewer holding up her hands to keep me from rolling in?" She never forgot this incident, and as an adult she began to do research on angels. She discovered hundreds of books on the devil and demons, but all she could find in print were 8 books on angels. This was back in 1982. It seems that men have a greater fascination for evil than for good. But today the good angels are hot and are getting a lot more attention. Billy Graham in his book on angels says, "Angels have a much more important place in the Bible than the devil and his demons."
The angels played a major role in the Christmas story. They announced the birth of Christ to both Mary and Joseph, and helped them work out the complexities of the virgin birth. Angels announced His birth to the shepherds and sang the first Christmas song--Glory to God in The Highest. They protected the Christ child, and all His life Jesus was protected by the angels. They would have even saved Him from the cross had He asked for that salvation. We cannot not look at all the ways they were involved in the life of Jesus, but we see they also announced His second coming in Acts 1:10-11, "Men of Galilee they said, "Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven." The angels will play a major role when Jesus returns, and for all eternity we will be partners in worship and service with the angels.
It makes sense why angels would play a major role in the life of Jesus, for He had to be protected until He went to the cross. God was not going to allow any accident, or disease, or clever trick of Satan to destroy His plan before it was completed. Angels are a vital part of the cast in the Christmas story, and in the whole story of the greatest life ever lived. But question that men struggle with is, what is the role of angels in our lives? The Christian world and the secular world have one concept of angels in common and that is the idea of the guardian angel. These invisible beings are protecting us. Who of us could not have been killed at some point in their life already? I have not kept a list of near death experiences, but I know I had a couple as a teenager, one in college, and several since. A second of difference in what happened could have led to my death in accidents. Did my guardian angel give me protection, or was I just lucky, or did God in His providence spare me without angel involvement?
Such questions get us into the realm of the unseen and the unknown. This is a realm where it is hard to be dogmatic. But Christians have always believed that angels are assigned to be with us. Charles Wesley wrote,
"Angels, where'er we go
Attend our steps what'er betide.
With watchful care there charge defend
And evil turn aside.
John Calvin, the great reformer wrote, "The angels are the dispensers and administrators of the Divine beneficence toward us: They regard our safety, undertake our defense, direct our ways, and exercise a constant solicitude that no evil befall us." We could quote hundreds of other Christian leaders to confirm this is a Christian conviction. Why then are we still so doubtful about the relevance of angels, and skeptical about their role in our lives? It is because there seems to be an angel shortage. They show up to protect in some dramatic instances, but in the majority of cases there does not seem to be enough angels to care for all of God's children, let alone, the whole human population.
Daniel had an angel show up to close the mouth of the lions, and he lived to tell about it. But the hungry lions in the Roman Coliseums devoured Christians by the hundreds. Where were their guardian angels? For every angel story of marvelous intervention there are dozens of tragic stories where children are not spared, but die in accidents, fires, and with dreaded diseases. This is open knowledge, and the result is, even Christians are somewhat skeptical of the whole idea of guardian angels.
What we need to see is that there are very few supernatural experiences that all God's people have in common. Only Noah and his family survived the flood. Many good people did not survive, including Methusalah. Only the three friends of Daniel survived the fiery furnace. All other believer's in history who have been subjected to intense fire have died. Lazarus and a few others were raised from the dead, but hundreds of millions of dead Christians have never experienced such a resurrection. Only three of the twelve disciples got to see the transfiguration of Jesus, and only Moses and Elijah got to see Jesus on that mountain. Only John, out of the twelve, got to see a vision of the New Jerusalem. We could go on and on showing that we have no basis for expecting to be in on everything God does in the realm of the supernatural.
If someone has an angel story do not be skeptical because you have never seen one. I never have either, but I can easily except another Christians experience, for I know that is a part of God's plan. Infinite variety with Christians having all sorts of experiences that other Christians do not have. Some Christians are healed even though I may not be. We need to avoid the false thinking that says because God does not always do something, He never does. Thousands of Christians die of cancer every year. Does that mean the stories cannot be true of Christians who are healed of cancer?
My point is, just because most of us never see an angel is no valid reason for rejecting the accounts of Christians who have. Remember, our theology is to be based on the Word of God and not on our personal experience. God says a lot of things are true that you and I may never experience. We will probably never hear the angels sing until we hear their praises in heaven, but do not reject the shepherds experience that first Christmas because you were not in on it. Christians who have angelic experiences tend to be humbled by it, and do not become self-righteous boasters, as if they are superior to the rest of us visionless Christians.
My own impression as I read of Christians who are spared by angels is that there is a lot less need for supernatural protection in the lives of Christians who do not do foolish and dangerous things. Take the story of Brian for example. This young man one hot summer night was coming home from a date and decided to stop by a friends home to take a dip in his pool. It was late and everyone was in bed, and so he quietly walked through the back yard to the pool. He was imagining how good the cool water would feel. He climbed up on the diving board and stood poised ready to dive.
It was a pitch black night, but all of the sudden he saw a brilliant glow, and as he stared, it took on a shape of an angel. He slowly climbed down the ladder of the diving board and walked to the edge of the pool to get a closer look at the glimmering angel. Instantly the glory was gone, and Brian was looking into the pool, totally empty of water. The next day he learned that his friends parents had drained the pool for maintenance. Brian is now through college, and recognizes he owes his life to a guardian angel.
Many stories like this are doubtless true, but as you read them you realize they would not be necessary if people took common sense precautions. Most Christians do not need a guardian angel to protect them from diving into empty pools because they make sure there is water before they dive. The more safety principles you follow in life, the more likely it is you will never see a guardian angel. Mother's have seen an angel lift their little child off the train track just as a train passes by. Most mothers will never see such a miraculous deliverance because they make sure their young child does not play on the tracks. An ounce of prevention is still better than a pound of cure. If we avoid tragic situations by forethought, we will seldom need supernatural intervention.
Often our need for the help of guardian angels is to avoid the tragedy of other peoples neglect. One Saturday afternoon a doctor came home to relax and watch a game on TV. Half way through the game he got an emergency call and had to rush back to the hospital. He grabbed his bag and dashed out to his car in the driveway. He turned on the key and was ready to put the car into gear when he felt the presence of something telling him not to back out. He was in a hurry and tried to resist such a strange impulse, but he felt he had to check. When he got out and walked to the back of the car he saw his neighbors two year old boy sitting in his little rocking chair leaning up against the bumper watching the clouds go by. Here was a man who thanked God for his neighbors guardian angel, for he was only a few seconds away from a terrible tragedy.
As you read of angel experiences, the primary thing that stands out is that their task is to mercifully prevent the disasters that human mistakes set up for the forces of evil to exploit. They are messengers of God to bring warning and guidance that prevent evil from gaining a victory. They are God's soldiers in spiritual warfare. This was the major role of the angels in the Christmas story. The angel of the Lord warned Joseph in a dream that Herod was out to kill the Christ child. Angels kept both Mary and Joseph informed about the virgin birth, for other wise they could never have gotten through the trial this put their relationship through. Angels were involved in every step of their experience, to guide, to inform, and to protect. They were God's agents in history to see that evil did not thwart His plan.
In this sense, God expects all His people to be partners with the angels. The very word for angel means messenger, and is often applied to men, for men can play the role of the angels. People do not become angels at death, but they can become angels before they die, in the sense that they can be messengers of God. John the Baptist is called an angel three times in the Gospels. His disciples, and the disciples of Jesus, are called angels. At least seven times the term angel is applied to human servants. Men can be messengers of God to bring warnings and guidance, and when they do, you can say, you are an angel.
Angels have the advantage of being invisible, and of being supernatural. They also have powers and information that we do not have. But, the fact is, we can be very effective in doing some of the same things they do. If you minister to someone and show kindness in any number of ways, and they say you are an angel, that is true, for you have played an angelic role in their life. In this Christmas season we can play the role of angels and sing the praises of God for the gift of His son. We can proclaim the good news of the incarnation to others, and we can point all people to the gift of God as the hope of the world. Angelic activity is what Christian living is all about. We can prevent life's greatest tragedy which is, being lost without the Savior.
Pat Boone tells about a messed up teenager who had her life changed by playing an angel. Fifteen year old Kathy Morrison was picked up in a big Midwestern city as a vagrant and taken to Juvenile Hall. She had no coat, no luggage, no nothing. She had been working with the carnival where she was the human target for the knife throwing act. They taught her how to short change the customers, and she learned on her own how to dodge knives when the boss was drunk.
Her father died when she was eleven and her mother remarried. The step father did not want her around. It was a Godless home with liquor, obscene language, and a lot of violence. She figured the cruel world could not be worse, so she took off enjoying the carnival. It was shut down for the season, and so she was now on her own. The judge asked if she had any place to stay or if there was any place she would like to stay. She said there was a place where the knife-thrower would drop her off when he went on a binge. It was a place called The Sunshine Mission. She said a nice lady there let me be an angel in the Christmas program. I liked being an angel, and I liked the story of the little baby. The judge sent Kathy back to the mission where she learned the full story about the baby. She became a child of God by trusting Jesus as her Savior. Pat Boone said she became a part of the permanent staff there and played the role of an angel everyday of the year.
It is of no benefit to anyone if you believe in angels but do not strive to play their role in service to God and man. In this Christmas season, this has to be our focus, that by word and deed we will minister to a needy world, and let the meaning of Christmas minister to us. Pat Boone says that he and his family work at slowing down to listen to the angels at Christmas. They try to plan ahead to avoid a hectic schedule so they can have a sense of peace as they celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. The poem that helped him slow down is by Grace Noll Crowell called Facing Christmas--
I shall attend to my little errands of love
Early this year,
So that the brief days before Christmas may be
Unhampered and clear
Of the fever of hurry. The breathless rushing
That I had known in the past
Shall not possess me. I shall be calm in my soul
And ready at last
I shall have leisure--I shall go out alone
From my roof and my door;
I shall not miss the silver silence of stars
As I have before;
And, Oh, perhaps--if I stand there very still,
And very long--
I shall hear what the clamor of living has kept from me;
The Angels' song!
The shepherds heard the angels, and it was not long before they were doing the same thing as the angels--proclaiming the good news of Christmas. They became angels, that is, messengers of God to others. That is what the belief in angels is to do for all of us. So let's listen, and not only believe in angels, but let's behave like them, and let's play angel.