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The Mystery Of Bethlehem

The Mystery Of The Angels

Erwin W. Lutzer | December 13, 2009

Selected highlights from this sermon

Angels are a popular topic, but most ideas about angels are wrong. The Bible clears up the confusion about angels by accurately portraying their activity and purpose. 

In the Christmas story, the angels are an outstanding model for us. They were perfectly obedient to the Lord as they brought messages to humanity, giving only divinely provided information. They came and went at God’s command, demonstrating worship, holy interest, and a joyful attitude. And their message was clear: come and adore the Lord. Will we heed their words?

The Mystery of the Angels

Here at the Moody Church we believe. We believe in the divinity of Jesus. We believe that He was virgin born, and we believe in angels. They actually do exist. We take the Christmas story as it is written because we believe it all. And of course on days like this, as we celebrate Christmas, we often sing songs such as “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.”

We speak about angels because the Bible speaks about angels. And yet today we live in a day and age when there is an angel craze. I think it began maybe 20 or 30 years ago. People began to buy not just images of angels but they began to pray to angels. You go in a bookstore today and you can find books such as An Angel and The Archangel and Grand Masters. I saw a book one day that said Find the Angel Within You. Well my dear friend, keep looking because he’s not there I can assure you. There’s no angel within you or within me.

And all of this interest in angels today in society actually is loaded with cultural theology – even shows such as Touched By An Angel – filled with a cultural view of God and a cultural view of angels. For example, one of the things that is believed is that all angels are good. Well, the Bible teaches that not all angels are good. There were some angels that were the elect angels preserved by God from falling, but then there were those that were the evil angels. If we interpret Revelation, one-third of the heavenly host fell, and the Bible talks about the devil and his angels. The word angel means messenger, and so we speak about the devil’s angels as well, and both of these kinds of angels are in the atmosphere. Both are probably with us this morning – almost certainly. And when you begin to go into spirituality via angels you never know what kind of an angel you are going to connect with and the evil angels, the Bible says, come as angels of light even though they are angels of darkness.

Something else that is believed today is that these angels exist, and though it is believed that all angels are good and exist to assist anyone, no matter who he or she is and no matter what they believe. But the Bible says that God’s angels (the good angels) are sent to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation. You say, “Is there such a thing as a guardian angel?” The closest Jesus taught that was found in Matthew 18 where Jesus makes the statement regarding children and says, “Their angels behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.” That does a number of things – that text. First of all, it shows that when infants die I have no doubt that they go to heaven because they are next to the Father and their angels behold the Father’s face. But it implies that maybe we are given an angel. Maybe we do have an angel but as the old commercial used to say, “Remember that angels that guard you when you drive officially retire at 65,” so keep that in mind.

Another belief is that angels are more accessible than God. I have this quotation from Time Magazine. “For those who choke too easily on God, His rules and His judgments, angels are a handy companion, full of fluff, non-judgmental, available to everyone just like aspirin.” And so you have today people who are into angels and the Bible warns against an over-veneration of angels. It does that in the book of Colossians because people are always tempted to somehow think that angels are somehow friendlier than God, and they can contact an angel. Don’t do it! We know that they exist. We know that they help us. We don’t see them but don’t begin to connect with them or worship them. That would be horrid.

The Bible says this regarding angels. It says, “God commanded and they were created.” I don’t know about you but I love texts like that from the Psalms. “God commanded and they were created.” God says, “I want myriads and myriads of angels,” and He spoke the word, and there they were, created out of nothing long before the creation of the world took place because they were on hand when the world was created. And so God created angels for the same reason that He created us. It was for His own good pleasure and because He thought it best.

Angels are intelligent beings. They have a will. That’s why some of them rebelled. They have the ability to know things and much that they know is taught to them by God, and much that they know they learn by observation because they don’t know everything. They are in the learning business also as shall see, and yet they are created by God.

And by the way, that’s why a fortune-teller who may have a divining spirit (an evil spirit to be sure) may know more than you do about your future, but not infallibly because the devil knows what’s happening and he can better predict what’s going to happen, but guess what! The devil is not able to know the future with accuracy. The future is in God’s hands alone.

Well, this is actually the third in a series of messages entitled The Mystery of Bethlehem. First of all we spoke about The Mystery of the Baby. Last time it was The Mystery of the Manger. And today we come to The Mystery of the Angels. And we shall have a brief biblical study regarding angels.

You know the book of Luke opens not just with the angels of Bethlehem but an angel comes to the man Zechariah, and the angel Gabriel comes to Mary in Luke 1. Interestingly Gabriel occurs four times in the Bible. For example, he’s in the book of Daniel. Now he shows up 500 years later and one of the things that we notice about him is that he has not aged. Isn’t that something? And he’s been around for 500 years. He’s probably been around for 5,000 years or more and a hundred million years from now he won’t look any older than he did when he appeared to Mary, and guess what! You won’t either. You are getting a brand new body if you know Christ, and you are not going to ever age. Don’t you look forward to that day? Isn’t that wonderful? Do I have a witness out there today? (applause)

Now these angels come and you’ll notice that they go where they are sent. Luke 2:8-12 says, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’”

Before we look at these angels let me say that they went where they were sent – wherever God sent them. It says regarding Gabriel, “And the Lord sent the angel Gabriel to Mary.” And now we know that the Lord sent these angels to the shepherds. You see where they went was not their choice. That was God’s choice. They were simply obedient to what God had told them to do. And the angels didn’t mind going to the lowly shepherds. Okay, so they are outcasts, but that’s okay. That’s not the issue for the angels. The angels have one desire, one unbelievable pure desire, and that is “Are we serving God acceptably? Is God pleased?”

Well, the next message is going to be The Mystery of the Shepherds, but let me say that perhaps these shepherds were chosen because they were taking care of temple sheep. Taking care of temple sheep meant that those sheep that they had would someday be slaughtered as a sacrifice and Jesus was the Good Shepherd. So God says, “There are some shepherds there. Go to them,” and that’s where the angels go. They went where they were sent.

Secondly, they gave the message they were given. Again we have to look at it from the standpoint of angels. Remember they were there. They saw Jesus in all of His glory. You know before Jesus came to this earth in Bethlehem He existed. In fact, He existed from eternity past, but He existed without a human body. He existed as God, and no doubt the angels understood the Trinity much better than we do, but they knew something of the glory and majesty of Christ in ways that you and I can talk about but we simply don’t understand. The angels understood that, therefore they knew how far He had come. They knew that this humiliation in Bethlehem was mind-boggling because they knew who Jesus really was.

And now the angel comes. And we don’t know that this is the angel Gabriel. It says “an angel of the Lord” - not “the” angel but an angel of the Lord – maybe Gabriel. He comes and he gives the good news. The glory of God that left the Temple during the days of Ezekiel was returning to the area. “The glory of the Lord shown ‘round about them,” the Bible says. And so in the midst of this the angel gives instruction and says, “Go find the baby, and this is how you are going to identify Him. Go to Bethlehem, the city of David. You will find Him wrapped in cloths.” The last time I explained the swaddling clothes – the strips of cloth. “And He will be lying in a manger.”

Now a baby born in Bethlehem was not unusual. A baby wrapped in these strips of cloth would not be unusual, but surely to find a baby in a manger would be very unusual. And that’s the way that the shepherds would know that they had found the right baby. They give them this news that Christ the Savior has been born. The angels have very good theology. They understand who Jesus is.

And then the Bible says, “Suddenly there was with the angel (I’m in verse 13 now.) a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.’” They are giving a message that shall be to all people – available to all people. The invitation is to all people but peace will be upon those with whom God is well pleased. Peace will be upon those who accept this Jesus, these who have their peace with God established through Him.

I need to be candid today. Not everyone is better off because Jesus came. In fact, it was Simeon who said that this child is set for the rise and the fall of many in Israel and a sign to be opposed, and Jesus Himself said, “If you fall upon this stone you’ll be broken in humility and you’ll see your sinfulness, but if this stone falls on you, it will crush you to powder.”

Everybody has to deal with Jesus. You say, “Well what about people from other religions?” They need to deal with Jesus too, if not in this life, they will deal with Him in the life to come because He is the dividing line between those who have redemption and those who don’t, and no other teacher has the qualifications of Jesus. There’s nobody else out there like Jesus to be a Savior from our sins. He stands alone, and so the angels are the ones who are saying, “Peace on earth.” And you say, “Well, you know where’s the peace on earth?” Well, let me say that there is peace in our hearts – those of us who have trusted Christ as Savior – but there isn’t going to be peace on earth until He returns again a second time, and that will bring the peace. But remember this. Jesus is, for the most part, rejected in many nations of the world. Jesus is marginalized in our own culture and in other cultures as well, and so as I say, not everybody is better off because Jesus came. But for those who believe they have received the redemption that only God can give.

Well, here are angels. They go where they are sent. They deliver the message that has been given to them, and then we find that they return again into heaven. Mission accomplished!

Could I say briefly that there is no sorrow on earth that is unrecognized in heaven? And there is no joy on earth that is unrecognized in heaven. Heaven and earth come together. Heaven might not be as far away as we sometimes think it is, and these angels go back to God, an entirely different realm. The realm may be close by but because it’s so different you and I can’t enter into it except by death. And so here are the angels returning to say, “We have delivered the message.”

I think that angels are models for us. I really do. That may seem unusual but let me give you some ways in which the good angels of the Bible model for us what we should be. First of all, I think they model worship and obedience. Just imagine this for a moment. The good angels are totally free of sin. There is no jealousy, no self-will, no one-upmanship and no concern about what other angels are thinking about them. They are totally and completely delivered from all of that. And what do they do when they are free from sin? They worship God and are obedient.

In Isaiah 6 you remember when Isaiah saw God in the temple he said, “Above the throne were the seraphim.” That’s one category of angels. And he said, “Each had six wings. With two he covered his face.” That showed that he recognized the holiness of God. “With two wings he covered his feet,” which showed his humility. “And with two wings he flew.” Obedience! “We are here to serve You but we’re here to worship You, and we know who You are, Lord God of Hosts.”

My friend today, the freer you and I become of sin, the more we die to self and to what others think, and the more we die to self-will and having our own way, the better worshipers we will be. And I think that the angels model the kind of worship that you and I have. Imagine the free focused worship of those who love God. And someday we are going to be like them in that regard - that we will be free of sin as well.

You know Joni Eareckson Tada is a quadriplegic and has blessed many of us. I think that she has been in that wheelchair for something like 40 years, and I remember being in a meeting in which she was speaking and she said that the thing that she looks forward to in heaven is not being able to throw her wheelchair aside and run to Jesus. You and I might think that after 40 years of the pain that she has endured that would be her greatest desire, but she said her greatest desire is to be totally, completely free of all sin, free of all jealousy, free of all lust, free of all self-will and to be able to worship God with that kind of freedom. That’s the way the good angels worship Him, and someday you and I will worship Him that way. But they model the complete devotion that you and I should have to Jesus. What is it, God, that You want? Whatever it is that You want, we are here to be obedient to worship You with that kind of purity.

I think there’s another way in which the angels are models for us. Not only in their worship are they models but also in their interests. Now the angels were there when the worlds were created. You’ve heard me say before that it’s possible that God just lined them all up because it says that the morning stars (that are referred to as angels} shouted for joy at creation. Maybe God just lined them up and said, “Watch this,” and then He spoke the world. And suddenly billions of stars appeared and a moon appeared, and a sun and an earth, and what do angels say? I don’t know. They say, “wow,” or something like that.

So they were there. They were there when man fell. They saw what happened there in the Garden when man took the serpent’s route, and we identified ourselves with the devil. They saw that. They saw that the fallen angel, Satan, was allowed to be in the Garden so that your grandfather and grandmother, and mine as well, sinned by taking the devil’s route. They were there. They were pained by the decision because you see they remember some of their colleagues. And they remember how those colleagues fell – the one-third of the angels that fell from heaven. Lucifer, son of the morning, said, “I will be like the Most High.” Apparently the devil was like a choirmaster. He was giving praise to God and making sure that all the praise was going to God, and then suddenly he kept some of it for himself. And it was that pride that made him rebel against God and become thoroughly and totally evil.

So the angels have seen all of that, and then they knew that there were promises of redemption, and this is what the Bible says in 1 Peter. This is in your Bible too. It says in 1 Peter 1:12, speaking of the time when the promises are going to be fulfilled and the coming of the Messiah and so forth, “These things the prophets were trying to understand, and these things the angels long to look into.”

The angels are fascinated by our redemption – absolutely fascinated. Let me tell you why I think they are so fascinated by it. It’s because the angels understand things that you and I don’t. We know the words but they experience what we’re talking about. The angels understood that God is a God of many attributes, and one of His attributes is love, and love would like to redeem people. Love would like to take them out of their sin, redeem and reconcile them to God and give them hope and forgiveness and eternal life. Love would like to do that but holiness says you can’t. You can’t because there is justice and there is holiness and God can’t mingle with sinners as if the sin didn’t happen. So there you have in God dissidence and tension. The question was how it was going to be resolved. How was God’s love going to be made free so that He could redeem humanity? How would that freedom come about until His holiness was appeased, and until justice was settled? And that’s what the coming of Jesus was all about.

The story of Christmas isn’t just about a baby in a manager. The story of Christmas is a baby in a manger who ended up being a man on a cross. That’s what it was all about. It was about reconciling the world unto Himself. And so the angels looked into this and they said, “How is God going to do it?” That’s why the Bible says that when God created, “the heavens are the work of His fingers,” but when it came to salvation it says, “God beared His mighty arm.” I mean this was much more breathtaking than creation could ever have been. So the angels understood that and the Bible says they desire to look into it.

Now just think about this for a moment. They are fascinated with our salvation. I love this. They are fascinated with our salvation even though they knew that in a previous world those who were their colleagues, namely the demons that fell, cannot be redeemed. Satan cannot be redeemed. Humans can but Satan can’t even though essentially we were born into the same camp. And the reason for this is the Bible makes it very clear in the book of Hebrews that you have to be like the one you are going to redeem, and Jesus became one of us. It says He took upon Himself the seed of Abraham. He did not take upon Himself the nature of angels.

You see, when Jesus died on the cross He came to save His people from their sins. It was people He came to save and no price for sin was included for the demonic spirits – for the evil spirit world. So they are incapable of redemption. Now we know that they never asked to be redeemed, but even if they did, “Sorry, no sacrifice for your sin, no redemption for you.”

Now think of this. The angels who receive no personal benefit from the doctrine of salvation – of our salvation – are fascinated with the whole matter of our salvation. I’m sure they were absolutely fascinated to think that a baby would be born in Bethlehem and this baby would be the redeemer of mankind. Can’t you imagine their enthusiasm watching everything that is going on, on earth? And they do watch us, you know, especially when we worship together. That’s what the Bible teaches. You know, Paul said in Corinthians, that the reason that women should be properly covered in a church service is for the angels. Do you remember that verse? That’s in your Bible, too, by the way. I’m not making that up because, you see, they’ve seen insubordination. They’ve seen rebellion. They’ve seen disorder, and so the angels have a great deal of interest in what we are doing and what’s going on, on earth, even though they have no benefit coming to them as a result of our salvation. And yet they are thrilled with it.

And I believe that when Jesus was there in the Garden and He said, “Could I not have called ten legions of angels to come and deliver Me?” I think there were angels all around just waiting for the signal to deliver Jesus. But they were not called because Jesus knew He had to go through Gethsemane and the cross for us, and there was no way out, but boy, were those angels ready.

So you see, I think that they model worship. Imagine being so free from jealousy. Jonathan Edwards said, “Just think of this for moment that in heaven you and I are going to be like the angels, free of sin and free of jealousy. And as a result of that, we will see the exaltation of others. And we will rejoice in the exaltation of others as if that exaltation were our own.” Imagine being that free to worship and to serve God.

So first of all, I think they model worship. I think they model also their interest in salvation. In fact, the Bible says that throughout all of eternity we are going to be on display as God’s many-faceted wisdom – the wisdom of God. And the angels love to see it.

There’s another reason and that is that I think they are our example in attitude. You know in Luke 15 (and you don’t have to turn to it), Jesus was being criticized for finding sinners. And when you are looking for sinners you have to go in some unlikely places. You have to go beyond the church walls, and Jesus was with prostitutes and Pharisees, yes, but they were the self-righteous ones. He was dealing with publicans and all kinds of nasty people, so He was being criticized for it. And Jesus said, “If there is a woman with ten coins and she loses one, doesn’t she go throughout and light a candle and search the whole house? And once she has found it she causes all of her friends to come over and to have a party, and says, ‘Rejoice with me because this coin that I have lost has been found.’”

I had an experience like that two weeks ago today. Two weeks ago this morning I woke up and could not find my wallet anywhere. And yet I had to come to church (Don’t tell anybody.) desperate. You know I have to come to church and drive a car. Oh, where was it? Now when you lose something like a wallet I can tell this from personal experience. You look in a hundred places where it could never possibly be. Don’t you? I mean you just start looking in the most bizarre places, and I decided to keep looking in places where I absolutely knew it could not be, but I had exhausted all the others. And in opening a bag, in which I knew for sure the wallet could not be, I found it. (laughter) And I just looked up to heaven and I said, “Thank you, Lord.” I’ve never seen my wallet with so much joy on my face as I did when I found it. Even if it was empty I was still glad I found it. (laughter) And that’s what Jesus said. And then he said this. “Even so, there is joy in heaven and the angels rejoice over one sinner that repents.” Wow!

I believe that throughout the world today there will be tens of thousands of people (I hope so.) who will believe on Christ and repent. And every single one of them is going to cause a cosmic celebration. And I’m hoping and praying that some of those people who caused the cosmic experience in heaven are here today because you are not here today by accident. A friend may have brought you or you may attend regularly. Whatever it is, God has brought you to this moment, to this hour, to this part in the sermon to speak to you and to tell you that you need to repent, turn from your sins and turn to Christ. And if you do, Jesus said, “The angels rejoice over one sinner that repents.” You can cause rejoicing in heaven today if you repent.

Now to those of you who don’t know Christ as Savior, let me say a couple of things. First, let me say candidly that some of you are satisfied with yourself. You’ve talked yourself into the idea that you are good enough for God. I hope that God divests you of that delusion because it is an illusion. But there are others of you who have come and you know that you need a Savior and the way you know it is through your sense of conviction of sin, the knowledge that you can’t get to God on your own and that you aren’t good enough unless God does it. And I’m speaking to you and I’ll tell you why. It’s because I know that God is speaking to you. What you need to do is to admit your sinfulness and then look to Jesus Christ, the baby becoming a Savior, now raised in heaven, but who died to reconcile and to bring about a resolution of the two attributes of God that were intentional. On the one hand God wants to redeem you, but He couldn’t until justice was satisfied. Justice is now satisfied so now He is free to redeem you. That is the good news of the Gospel. And you say, “Lord Jesus, be my Savior.”

Martin Luther said that all of salvation is dependent upon the pronouns to be able to say, “Jesus is a Savior,” Luther said, “Even the devil can say that.” But what the devil cannot say is, “Jesus is my Savior.” Make Him your Savior today.

You may be watching on the Internet. You may be listening by radio or other means. Receive Christ, and the angels in heaven rejoice. Now catch this. The angels in heaven rejoice over a sinner that repents even though they know that all who repent are going to be exalted above them forever. Of course, we’re going to be above the angels, and the reason is because Jesus is our brother. And when the title deed to the Universe is read, why indeed your name (and mine) is going to be there if you are a repentant person and you’ve received Christ as Savior. It is because we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.

You see, angels were created individually. They have no aunts and uncles and cousins and so forth. They are created individually. We have connection and we have a brother who is our Savior, and because of that, we’re going to be exalted above them. No angel will ever be an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ. No angel will ever sit on the thrown of the Universe to rule, and yet Jesus said, “He who overcomes I shall grant to sit with Me to sit on My throne, even as I overcame and sat with My Father on His throne.” It is mind-boggling.

The angels know that they will never be like those human beings that have been redeemed. But they rejoice in our salvation, totally free of all jealousy, totally free of all one-upmanship - total free. And I say that they are our models as far as their attitude is concerned.

When Paul Gibson was leaving Cambridge as principal there was a painting commissioned for him. And when the painting was unveiled, Paul Gibson, paying a wonderful tribute to the artist said, “In time to come, people who look at this painting are not going to say, ‘Who is the person painted?’ but they are going to ask, ‘Who was that painter?’”

Throughout all of eternity the question will not be, “Who are the redeemed?” The question is going to be, “Who is their Redeemer to take them from the pit and to lift them to the palace, from the mud to the marble?” What a Redeemer! And the angels rejoice every time someone repents and takes advantage of the redemption. Would you receive Christ today?

And of course we know that the angels had a message. “Go to Bethlehem. Adore Him.” And that’s what we do here at the Moody Church. At every service we adore Him.

Would you join me as we pray?

Our Father, today we thank You so much for angels – the good angels. Thank You, Father, for their model of obedience and worship and their model of being interested in salvation. And then, Father, thank You for their attitude of total selflessness, rejoicing in the fact that we have been converted. We look forward to being with them someday to join our voices to give You praise and adoration. Help us to be like them, and ultimately like Christ.

For those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, where you are seated, wherever you as listening to this, say, “Jesus, I repent. I am a sinner. I know I can’t save myself. I receive your salvation right now.”

Receive it and the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner that repents.

Thank You, Jesus, Amen.

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