Scripture Reference: Luke 1, Colossians 2, Revelation 22:9
What Angels DoDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | December 4, 1994
Selected highlights from this sermon
Even in non-religious circles, many people are more than comfortable talking about angels. They like to enjoy the “spirituality” without having to deal with Almighty God. They prefer the apparently friendly and appealing angels.
But we must be careful because many angels are not “good” angels. And the best way to avoid this trap is to never attempt to initiate contact with an angel or spirit. Instead we need to worship God who can use angels to protect and serve His people.
If you know anything about our culture, you know that angels are flying low these days, and they are everywhere. I took a trip to one of our bookstores to try to find out what’s going on in the secular book world, and I came across a lot of angel titles. I thought that there might be one or two, but I was shocked at the number of books on angels. Here are some of the book titles: Angel Letters, Angelic Healing, A Celebration of Angels, Angels Over Their Shoulder, and Messengers of Light.
Now I determined that I would buy only one of the books, and I bought the book Angels Among Us, but my wife would have preferred that I had bought another book. It’s entitled Be An Angel, but I passed that one by.
I discovered that there is angel wrapping paper, angel calendars, and angel artifacts. And the Los Angeles Daily News says that the profits (well, you probably guessed it) that are coming about as a result of this angel phenomenon are “perfectly heavenly,” the report says. Now I believe these stories that we read in the books and in the newspapers about angel visitations. The problem that I have, as we shall see this morning, is the interpretation of them and how we might understand the angel phenomenon in our culture.
What I’d like to do today is to begin by giving some reasons why it is that angels are making a comeback and why it is that there is such a discussion and so much flurry regarding angels today. Here they are – a couple of reasons.
Number one, it enables people to experience the spiritual without bothering with God – without bothering with God, because the minute you begin to deal with God, then you’ve got all these problems of sin and redemption and the need for obedience, and wondering what God’s will is, whereby if you have an encounter with an angel, they don’t make those kinds of nasty demands. They are very accessible and very accepting of human failure. And it is so much easier to be able to shuffle a deck of angel cards than it is to study the Bible. So what you do is you go into angels and they are more accessible as a way into the spirit world.
In fact, that’s the second reason. It makes the spirit world appealing and friendly. I stood there in the bookstore and I took some of these books down and I began to speed read them and I noticed that all of the stories were so positive. I mean there was no angel doing anything nasty. Everything that was happening was so good and so helpful, and it was saying in effect, “All that you need to do is to recognize that there is a friendly spirit world out there and it’s important for you to get in touch.”
There’s a third reason, and that is that it makes the occult appear very biblical. Because the Bible has so much to say about angels, people therefore study the Bible. They will read Billy Graham’s book on angels right alongside another book on angels, and they think that one is just as authoritative as the other. I mean after all, an angel is an angel, is an angel, is an angel. Thirteen percent of Americans say that they have seen an angel or have sensed the presence of an angel.
What I want us to do today is to take our Bibles and turn to Luke 1. This is the first in a series of messages on angels. Today we’re going to discuss what angels do. And as we turn to Luke 1, I want to remind you that angels are such a phenomenon that happens on the pages of Scripture. I may have mentioned to you that over 300 references to angels are in the Bible. And I not only believe in angels, but before this message is over, I’m going to share with you some angel stories. But before I get to that I’ve got a couple of other things to say.
Let’s look at this passage of Scripture. Gabriel is the angel who brings a revelation to a man by the name of Zechariah, whose wife, Elizabeth, is going to become the mother of John the Baptist. Luke 1:8-10: “Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.” Verse 11: And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.”
I find that interesting because in the books that I scanned, nobody seemed to be scared of angels. They just seemed to walk up and do something nice and disappear, and in the minds of many people it was as if this happens every day. Zechariah at least was troubled, and so were the shepherds. The angels had to say to them, “Fear not,” but these angels that we read about today are not frightful at all, are they?
Verse 13: “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink.’” Gabriel goes on to discuss with him how John the Baptist is going to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy.
And now we skip to verse 18: “And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’ And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place.’”
What I’d like to do today is to use Gabriel as a prototype of angels. I know that he is a very prominent angel, but his responsibility, his job description no doubt, is much like that of other angels, even though they may have lesser prominence. Gabriel is a very interesting angel. He appears four times on the pages of Scripture. His name means a mighty one of God, and Daniel experienced some sightings. In the Daniel 9:21 Gabriel comes to him, and in the eighth chapter Gabriel comes to Daniel, and they have a discussion. In fact, Gabriel looks like a man, and he touches Daniel and he communicates with Daniel.
What is it that Gabriel can tell us about God’s angels? What is his job description? Well, let me give you three responsibilities that Gabriel has for God. Number one, he stands in the presence of God. Verse 19 says, “I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God.” Why is it that angels are in the presence of God in the sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah? Around and about the throne there were angels. Do you remember the seraphim, which was one of the levels of angels? It says they had six wings. With two they covered their face, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew, indicating their adoration, their obedience, and their humility.
What is it that they are saying around the throne of God?
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
They stand in the presence of God to worship. If you read the book of Revelation you discover that there were thousands of angels and ten thousand times ten thousand, and all of them were singing the praises of God, and the praises of the Lamb. Worship is their responsibility and joy!
Have you ever thought of what it would be like to be able to see God? Now we can’t because of our sinfulness. No man can see God directly and live, but the angels evidently do. And can you imagine what it would be like to stand in the very presence of God without any moral or spiritual barrier between you and God because within you there was no taint of sin, and all that you could do is to stand and adore God?
So angels, first of all, stand in the presence of God to worship. And secondly, they stand to serve. They stand in obedience to God. They are looking for assignments. God says, “Gabriel, I want you to go and I want you to communicate with Zechariah. I want you to communicate with Daniel. I want you to be involved in this battle, and it is your responsibility to take care of this part of the vineyard. And I want you to guard So-and-So on this very special trip that they are making.” And all of them have assignments.
Now it’s easy for us to say, “Well, what about those who do not have the same prominence as Gabriel, or as Michael? What about those ordinary angels? Aren’t they jealous because God never gives them something spectacular to do?” Oh no! Remember now that angels are without sin, and therefore, there is no jealousy. And as far as the angels are concerned, they can rejoice in the success of another angel just as much as they can rejoice in their own success because remember this: If you were an angel, anything that God would do would delight your heart, assuming that you would have a heart. If you were an angel it would delight you.
In fact, you know that someday when we get to heaven, some of us are not going to be rewarded as well as others who served in places where there was no prominence. They served in obscurity. Are we going to be jealous and say, “You know, I envy that position in the Kingdom?” No, because we will be without sin, and like the angels, we will rejoice in those who have positions of more prominence just as much as if we were the ones who were elevated to those special places of responsibilities.
What is the first test when you begin to think about an angel of God versus the other angels? Remember that just as there are angels that stand in the presence of God, there are fallen angels that stand in the presence of Satan, who admire him and who are there to do his bidding, and if they do not, they will be punished.
What is it like, therefore, when you have a visitation that is an angel? How might you know whether this angel is of God? Well, certainly one of the tests is if there is any communication, you know that an angel of God always agrees with God. He agrees with God if he is from God. In fact, you know, it would be interesting to see how many evangelicals even would respond if they had an angelic visitor that showed up, wings and all, and said, “You know, I want you to realize that God has sent me to you, and with a very special message. God has told me to tell you that you are a very kind person and you are doing these acts of charity, and with these acts of charity, you are receiving God’s approval, and if you do them consistently you will enter into heaven.” I can just imagine it. The experience happens and somebody writes a book, and says, “I was visited by an angel, and guess what he told me!” And everybody says, “Oh wow! Isn’t that wonderful!” My dear friend, if you have an angel that shows up and says that, you should turn to that angel and say, “In the name of Jesus, be gone. Be accursed!”
That’s what the Apostle Paul said. He said in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” I was meditating on that this week and I said, “Wait a moment, Paul! Did you not mistake your theology? Why didn’t you say, ‘If an angel from hell should preach any other gospel,’ because surely an angel from heaven wouldn’t preach another gospel?” It dawned on me that Paul knew what he was saying. He was saying, “If there should be an angel in heaven who snuck in with that kind of theology, and therefore came from heaven and he preached a different Gospel, let him be accursed. Be gone in the name of Jesus! Out of here!”
Did you know that there is a very famous religion that was founded because a man had a revelation from an angel and did not curse him and believed what the angel had to say? And here you have this religion that is false, that is cultic, that teaches basically that man is God, all because a man had a revelation from an angel and thought that he should listen. The first test of whether or not an angel is from God is does he agree with God? That’s because the true angels stand in the presence of God and agree with Him completely on everything.
Secondly, I want you to notice that Gabriel says, “I am sent by God.” That’s part of his job description. “I stand in the presence of God, and have been sent to speak to you.” Now think about that. The word angel really means messenger. In fact, sometimes the word can be used of human beings if they are messengers.
Gabriel is standing here and saying, “I am God’s messenger, and because I am sent, that means that I am not nearly as important as the sender.” The ambassador is not as important as the president whom he represents. Therefore, the real angels always keep pointing to the glory and to the wonder of God, and they never take any attention that would be attracted to them. In fact, they disdain it because they want to make sure that God gets all of the glory. They are only on assignment to do what He asks them to do, and when they have completed their assignment, they vanish.
How would all the angels regard the publicity that is being given to angels today? Well, it depends on what angel you are talking about. If you are speaking of the angels of God, they abhor what is happening today. To them they see this as the uttermost idolatry that people are going to be absorbed with angels, and not recognize that the real issue is not angels but one’s relationship with God. But the fallen angels are delighting in it. This is great! Why? It’s because they love to have the attraction of people and they love to have people think more about them than they do of God. And their greatest delight is when somebody prays to an angel, thinking that he’s praying to an angel and actually praying to an angel of light – a demonic spirit - who appears as being righteous but who is wicked. A spirit who does good things, mind you (All of them do. That’s what the books say.), but he does them with the intention of deceiving.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, is this a new phenomenon?” Well, it’s new in the sense that years ago you couldn’t go into bookstores and see all this stuff on angels, but I want you to know that everything that goes around comes around. During ancient times there was a heresy by the name of Gnosticism, and Gnosticism taught that there was a whole emanation of angels from God to man. And they began to sort out all the different angels, and actually philosophically they were much more astute, and much more intricate than the kind of pop writing that is being done today on angels. And they had it all worked out.
What did the Apostle Paul think of it? Turn to Colossians 2 for just a moment, which was a letter that was basically written to counteract this heresy that was also being imbibed in the Church – this preoccupation with angels. And in Colossians 2:18 he says, “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head (that is, Christ).”
I stood in the bookstore and saw all these angel books, and I thought to myself how incredibly arrogant – arrogant - to think that man would be able to enter into spiritual territory and would have the perception to know what was right and what was wrong, when he was deceived and when he was not deceived, and that all that you needed to do is to have this experience, and then you could write a book. And I read some of the stories, and the angels were indiscriminate in their good deeds both to the wicked and to the saved and to the unsaved, and to think that this is now the map of the spiritual world.
Paul says, “Beware lest somebody steal your crown when you become mesmerized by the angelic phenomenon,” which was happening in the second century. Beware! He was there. It has happened before.
How do we know if an angel is of God? Number one, he will agree with God regarding everything. He’s got to agree with the Word. Secondly, if he is really of God he will always honor God. He will disdain any unnecessary attention. His goal is God. And thirdly, notice that angels act for God. I find this story very interesting because Zechariah was not exactly believing. He was saying, “Look, I’m an old man. Elizabeth is an old woman.” I think he put it more delicately than that, but the whole idea is that “I don’t think we can have children anymore.”
Do you know what the angel did? He said, “Look, I’m going to strike you dumb, I’m going to strike you silent, and you are not going to say one word until everything that I have predicted is going to come to pass.” And if you read the second chapter you know that the angel was right.
Well, here I am in Crown Books, and looking at all of these angel stories. I’m looking for a story where an angel struck somebody dumb. I can’t find it. I wished that it happened for some perhaps, but it’s not there. Everything that happens is always good. It is always positive. Do you realize today, my friend, that angels were frequently used in the judgment of God? You read the Old Testament and you find that there were angels that came. Do you remember the story of Elijah? He said to the young servant, “Open your eyes.” And he opened his eyes and the entire horizon was filled with warriors, and I think it was 185,000 Assyrians that were slain on a single night by all these angels.
Oftentimes they were messengers of judgment. Yes, for believers they are frequently messengers of protection. In Hebrews 1:14 they are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. They are sometimes ministers of communication, though that happens less frequently today because we have the Bible. We have God’s Word and we have the blessed Holy Spirit of God in our hearts who leads us. And there may be times when we have been totally unaware that angels have taken care of us. And angels have prepared the way, and angels have saved us and protected us in ways that we were not even aware of.
What I’d like to do today is to give you now in closing three very important cautions regarding angels. Very important!
Number one, never initiate contact with an angel. If God wants to send you an angel, fine! But don’t you initiate the contact. Let him be sent by God for a specific purpose. Why do I say don’t initiate the contact? My dear friend, if our eyes could be opened to the spirit world, we’d discover that the whole atmosphere right here even in the church was filled with spirits – some good and not bad. And what we would learn is that when you begin to initiate, you do not know but that you are communicating with an angel of light, a demonic spirit who is impersonating an angel of God.
Look at Swedenborg, a great spiritist of a previous day. Swedenborg believed that God had given him the ability to distinguish good spirits from bad spirits, just like that woman on the plane with whom I was riding some time ago who said that she could tell the difference because she received only those spirits, she said, that came to her in light. And she abhorred all the spirits that came to her in darkness. Swedenborg thought that he had that ability too. Do you know what he said near the end of his life? He said, “I realized that the demons are so deceptive that I now recognize that even I have been deceived, and there is no way to tell the difference between the good ones and the bad ones.” If you are the initiator, you do not know what angel is going to show up for communication and fellowship and to do you some good deed so that you be deceived. You don’t ever initiate the contact.
Secondly, never think of angels as a means to get to God. You see, what is happening in today’s society according to the book I looked at briefly is “ask your angel.” And the author says, “Now, if you have a request and you have some need, all that you need to do is to pray to your angel, and you know that the angel will respond. You’ll be heard and you’ll get your answer.” Wait a moment! Where in the world did you pick up that heresy?
The Bible says that there is but one God, and one mediator between God and man, the Man, Christ Jesus. And now what is happening, just like ancient Gnosticism, people are putting in one mediator after another, after another that somehow they might be able to get their request to God. Be gone in the name of Jesus! If you need to talk to God, you need to talk to God, and the way you do it is through Christ and not through any angel – period – ever!
Thirdly, never give undue honor to angels. Turn to Revelation 22. It’s interesting to do a profile on what angels think of themselves. (Now there’s a message I haven’t thought of preaching. That might be an interesting one. What Angels Think of Themselves! We could do a psychological analysis and try to figure out what angels think of themselves. Of course, some of us would only have to ask our wives, and we would know what angels think, but let’s lay that aside.) Let’s look at Revelation 22. This is what the text says. This is the second time that John is receiving a revelation from an angel, and he is so captivated that he falls down. He fell at the feet of the angel in verse 8 but it says in Revelation 22:9, “And he (that is, the angel) said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’” In other words, “I am your fellow servant. I am one of you in the sense that I am a created creature who has been asked by God to do certain assignments, but do not worship me. I’m here to help you, but I will always point to God.”
My dear friends, today, the responsibility of angels is laid out in the Word of God when it says that they are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. If you have an angel that is coming to someone who is not an heir of salvation, that in another sense has to be a story that has to be seriously doubted. Believe the story, but don’t believe the naive interpretation that is given to us.
Now yes, I do believe in angel stories. Dorie VanStone wrote a book entitled No Place to Cry. She’s a woman who was abused. Many of you have heard her story. Her first book was entitled Dorie, the Girl Nobody Loved. When Dorie was in Romania and was at an airport with a very, very difficult situation (and you can read the details in her book), when it seemed as if she was not going to be able to get the visa to leave the country (and you know, in those countries all of the mechanics of taking care of problems like that become very, very great and very formidable), a man appeared out of nowhere. He had a very kind look on his face, and said, “I am here to help you.” And without her communicating with him what her need was, he actually took her by car to a place where she could get the right papers, took her back to the airport, gave her some money, helped her through customs, totally negotiated the long lines by insisting that she get past them, and helped her all along the way, knowing what flight she was going to be on, though she had not communicated that with him. And then suddenly when it’s all over and she wants to thank him, he’s not there to thank. I can’t prove it, but that’s the kind of thing that an angel would probably do. Yeah, that could be an angel.
Let me tell you another story. There was a missionary in a very primitive country who told this story in Michigan. He came back and he said, “I want to tell you what happened to me while I was on the mission field.” He said, “I saw two men fighting. And there was a man who was very wounded, and I decided to help that man. I took him to the hospital and gave him some medical attention.” And he said, “The man told me this story. He said, ‘You know, it’s very kind of you to take care of me but we intended to kill you (me and my friends). We followed you one day when you were making a journey, and we wanted to see where you were sleeping, and we knew that you had some money and some medicine, and we wanted to kill you and get it, but while we were there, we noticed that during the night, there were 28 men who were guarding you.’ The man said, ‘Well, to be honest with you, I’m not aware of anyone guarding me. I was just sleeping out there in the open.’ And the man said, ‘We noticed it because the other men who were with me also counted them, and we all agreed that there were 28.’”
Okay, so the man comes to Michigan and he’s telling this story. And as I heard it, there was a man in the congregation who said, “Wait a moment. Let’s put a piece of the puzzle together here. Let’s figure out what day you are talking about, and what time of day because one Saturday morning I was going to go golfing, and the Spirit of God so laid a burden on my heart that I knew I needed to pray for you. And I went to the church to pray, and I found a whole group of men, and we all had a prayer meeting for you.”
So they put it together. Morning over here is evening over there, etc. and they discovered that the whole thing jived. And then the man said, “In fact, the men that I called to pray are here. Why don’t they just stand up?” Well, they stood up and they counted them, and you guessed it. There were 28! Of course, there are ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.
Now let me make this very, very clear. If you are here today and you are not an heir of salvation, and if you have never received Jesus Christ, you need something that no angel can ever do for you. What you need is a Savior. And no angel can be a Savior. No angel is going to be exalted as high as we are. They are never going to be heirs of God. They are never going to be joint heirs with Jesus Christ because they were never man, and they never became a part of Christ like we. And that’s why Beverly Shea used to sing, “When we sing redemption’s story, they’ll just fold their wings,” because they do not know the joy that our salvation brings. But as a result of that, what you need is faith in Christ – not an angel, but in Christ, the one mediator between God and man, the only qualified one in whom you can believe to have your sins forgiven, that you might belong to God forever.
Angels agree with God. They honor God. They act for God. They can never save.
Join me as we pray.
Our Father, we thank You for those ministering spirits whom You have given to us, and we pray today, Lord, that You might make us grateful that You have created angels. We want to thank You for the many times that they guided us and protected us when we were unaware of it. Undoubtedly there are many believers who are listening to this message who could tell us of direct encounters and helpful experiences, but we pray today, Lord, that in the craze, we ask, Lord Jesus, that you will help us as Your people to continually point to Christ whom the true angels worship and adore.
For those who are present today who have never received You as Savior, help them to know that the only person who is able to take care of their sin problem is Christ.
And even as I close this prayer, if you are here today and you have never believed on Him, you have the privilege of knowing that faith in Christ will save you. “He that believes on Me will have everlasting life.” Flee to Him right now.
Lord, do whatever work is needed in the lives of your people, and those who do not know you, that is necessary, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.