Supernatural Happenings with Angels

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Christmas: Divine Design Causing Change

Read at beginning of service:

Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

INTRODUCTION

How many of you have ever heard a sermon on angels before? In my recollection I don?t think I?ve ever preached a message regarding the ministry of angels before.

In recent years, Angels have become quite popular. The Wall Street Journal carried an article in 2003 that stated, “After a hiatus of almost 300 years and much skepticism, angels are making a comeback.” From lapel pins to Angel Cards, people can?t seem to get enough of the celestial world. Just this week I typed in the word “angel” on Google, and came up with 73.9 million hits! According to the Angel Collectors Club of America, the hands-down champion of angel collectors is a woman from Beloit, Wisconsin. Her home is stuffed with 10,455 different angelic artifacts!

Even TV talk shows devote hours to people with “angel stories.” Several years ago, Oprah Winfrey chided a guest for being “in denial” about an angel experience. Major bookstore chains sometimes have whole sections devoted to books involving angels ? of course a small percentage of those books present angels in a biblical light.

While the Christmas story is saturated with the supernatural, some of us miss the meaning because we just skim by this season on a superficial level. I want to suggest this morning that we must see the mysterious and miraculous elements surrounding the birth of Jesus.

In his book called, “Rumors of Another World,” Philip Yancey writes, “The Bible presents a?view of reality that encompasses both the familiar visible world and an invisible world that coexists as a kind of parallel universe” (Page 165). The supernatural star that led the wise men to Jesus gave way to a divine dream that warned them to go home by another route. In addition, angelic pronouncements permeate the landscape, appearing first to Zechariah, then to Mary, Joseph and finally to the shepherds.

2 Corinthians 4:18 challenges us to move our minds from this transitory world to the real world that we have a difficult time seeing: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” We live in one place but we believe in another dimension. I?m reminded of the story in 2 Kings 6 when an angry army surrounds Elisha and his servant. The servant starts to flip out so Elisha says in verse 16: “Don?t be afraid, those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” I picture the servant looking around and not seeing anyone but innumerable enemies. Then Elisha prays in verse 17: “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see. Then the LORD opened the servant?s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” Friend, I believe that if we could pull back the curtain on the spirit world, we would see that this room is filled with intelligent, powerful beings.

My prayer is that the Lord will open our eyes so that we will see what is ultimately important this morning. Angels appear in more than half of the books of the Bible, with over 300 total references. They have three primary responsibilities.

They magnify God. The number one job of angels is to adore God. Nehemiah 9:6: “You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” One of the most vivid pictures of praise is found in Revelation 5:11-12: “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand?In a loud voice they sang: ?Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!?”

They are messengers of God. The word “angel,” as used in the Bible, literally means messenger. Their job is to do what God wants them to do. Angel messengers basically convey two types of messages. Sometimes it?s good news like announcing the birth of Christ. But, other times they bring bad news. When they serve in this capacity, they are not cute little cherub dolls that look like ornaments we hang on our Christmas trees. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” The Book of Revelation is full of prophecies regarding the role of avenging angels and it is anything but pretty.

They minister to people. Hebrews 1:14 puts it best: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Most of the time angels are not seen; they minister invisibly behind the scenes. And yet, on occasion, they break into our world, appearing for a short time to accomplish a specific purpose. The Bible mentions that when they do appear, they often look just like humans. Listen to Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” It?s quite possible to be face-to-face with an angel and not even know it

Phillip Yancey refers to a concept called, “thin places,” where the natural and supernatural worlds come together at their narrowest, with only a thin veil between them (“Rumors of Another World,” Page 45). As we read the Christmas story, there are many of these thin places, particularly when messengers from the angelic world make an appearance into our world.

Not surprisingly, every time an angel shows up in the Advent Adventure, human beings become very afraid. They?re terrified by the messenger and are left tottering by the message. When an angel appears in Scripture, a sense of fear and wonder blasts through the blas? and predictable. Actually, that?s one of the functions of angels. This awe-inspiring element was built into the very worship fabric of ancient Israel. The Ark of the Covenant had two cherubim carved into it. The idea is that God is surrounded by powerful beings. Prophets like Isaiah came face-to-face with seraphim who cried out in Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” With the doorposts shaking, and the temple filled with smoke, Isaiah cried out in fear, “Woe is me!”

My guess is that many of us are afraid about something this morning. On 65 different occasions, the Bible tells us to “fear not.” Let?s see how these messages to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds can minister to us today. (Insights for the following come from Pastor Leith Anderson www.wooddale.org).

Let?s look at three different angelic encounters that intersect the Christmas story in order to help us see that which is ultimately real.

1. Don?t be afraid of God?s purposes.

The first messenger was one of the big guns of the Bible. His name was Gabriel and is one of only two named angels in the Bible, the other one being Michael. His first assignment that we know about came when he was called on to interpret a dream for the prophet Daniel (see Daniel 9:21). Gabriel then disappears from the scene for six hundred years, until he appears to a young teenage peasant girl named Mary.

As we read the familiar story let?s try to imagine what Mary might have felt during this angelic encounter. Luke 1:26-38 (read at beginning of service):

Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Gabriel had the privilege of announcing the most astonishing news ever! God was going to send His Son to earth. I wonder if Gabriel questioned why God would want to accomplish His purposes through such an unlikely person. She was young in a culture that respected older people. She was poor. She lived in an isolated village. Don?t you love how God chooses to use people who we might not pick?

But Mary is terrified. She?s agitated at this announcement because she doesn?t understand why God would want to accomplish His purposes through her. I think she was probably afraid of this mighty messenger and dumbfounded by his message. Gabriel must have seen the fear in her eyes and so he said, “Don?t be afraid.” He knew that her fear could keep her from responding in faith and so his first task was to tame her trembling heart. He then explained what was going to happen as best he could. Mary asked a very natural question and Gabriel responded with the mystery of how a virgin could become pregnant with the Son of God. Mary didn?t understand this any more than we can explain it.

Gabriel reminds Mary of the miraculous pregnancy of Elizabeth and then makes a statement that we still need to hold on to today: “For nothing is impossible with God.” As Mary?s eyes are drawn to the power of God and away from her situation, she is able to respond with faith in verse 38: “I am the Lord?s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Mary was ready to respond, choosing faith over her fear.

What about you? Perhaps God has revealed something to you in this past year that you?re afraid to fully submit to. What fear is keeping you back? Friend, because nothing is impossible with God He can do the improbable with insignificant people like you and like me. ?ordinary people who are part of an extraordinary plan?

2. Don?t be afraid when everything seems to go wrong.

Joseph needed some divine intervention after he found out Mary was pregnant. He knew he wasn?t the father. He had wanted to settle down into his carpentry business, get married, build a home, and pass on his trade to their children. But now things were falling apart and his plans were blown up. His reputation was on the line. And his fianc? had let him down. What was he going to do? Because he was a righteous man, he determined to end the engagement as quietly as he could. Instead of trying to get even, he wanted to do what was right. He?s in a daze, probably wanting to crawl into a hole.

In the middle of his misery, Joseph gets a visit. Let?s look at Matthew 1:20-24:


Matthew 1:20-24 (NIV)

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

This unnamed angel fills in some of the blanks for Joseph but first he settles Joseph?s anxious heart by saying, “Do not be afraid.” Amazingly, he is being asked to raise a child that is not his. And, he?s given a glimpse of the glory of this child as the angel tells him that this boy will be the Savior, fulfilling the prophecy from Isaiah 7:14. Joseph then moves from fear to faith when we read, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

Does your life seem out of control right now? Have some things happened that have caused you to lose sleep? Maybe your dreams have been destroyed and your problems seem insurmountable. Does everything seem to be going wrong? Friend, hold on to hope. Immanuel will be with you always, no matter what happens. God will work everything out for His glory and for your good. Romans 8:28 is still true: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” What God wants from us is to be obedient like Joseph was. He wants us to serve Him in the midst of the storm, to love Him even when we feel like we?ve lost everything, and to trust Him during our trials.

Joseph actually had two more encounters with angels, and like the first time, he chose faith over fear. Look at Matthew 2:13-14:


Matthew 2:13-14 (NIV)

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,

Joseph had some “get up and go,” didn?t he? He response was identical some time later after another angelic encounter, in which he was told to go back to Israel because Herod had died. We see his obedience again in Matthew 2:21: “So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.”

Friend, don?t be afraid when life throws you a curve. Choose faith over fear. And when God makes it clear what you?re supposed to do, and you?re sure that He?s the one speaking, then “get up and go.”

3. Don?t be afraid of the good news.

The final exhibit of angelic intervention takes place when God rocks the routine of some guys who are just out doing their job. Luke 2:8-20:


Luke 2:8-9 (NIV)

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

In the midst of the mundane, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared. Into the darkness of a silent night came the brightness of the glory of the Lord. I?m sure they were rubbing their eyes and shaking in their sandals. In fact, the word “terrified” means that they were alarmed and agitated.

“But the angel said to them, ?Do not be afraid.” Once again, an angel has to tell humans to chill out. The reason they did not need to be afraid is because the messenger was bringing “good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.? As the shepherds are trying to handle the message from this one messenger, they are taken aback again. “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God?” The word “suddenly” means that the heavenly host came unexpectedly. I imagine the sky filled with a multitude of messengers. The phrase “heavenly host” refers to the Lord?s army in other passages of Scripture. Then the angels say, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

After witnessing this incredible display of unbridled adoration and praise, the shepherds knew that they had to move. “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ?Let?s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.? They discussed what they should do and were unanimous in their decision to head to Bethlehem. I love verse 16 because it shows that their fear had been replaced with faith and then their faith went to their feet: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” There was no delay. The word “hurried” carries with it the idea of speed.

The shepherds then became messengers of the message they had received from the angel. “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” With hearts filled with gratitude, these men broke out into praise: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

Friend, God may be trying to break into your ordinary routine with the message of good news. He loves you and has sent His Son to be your Savior. How long will you continue to ignore Immanuel? When will you hurry to the Holy One? He wants to bring you joy in the midst of all the junk going on in your life. Will you receive what He has done for you? Will you put feet to your faith?

There are angels everywhere and I believe they are still doing God?s work today. But whether we see or hear an angel today doesn?t really matter. What matters most is that we get God?s message and that we respond not in fear, but in faith. Since it?s important to understand the role of angels in the Bible, let me briefly mention three things that good angels never do:

Angels Never Take the Place of the Bible. When they give messages from God, angels never supersede Scripture or contradict the Bible. Angels had a part in delivering sections of the Bible; therefore they would never say anything against it. Deuteronomy 33:2 tells us that myriads of holy messengers came down on Mount Sinai when God gave the Law to Moses and the entire book of Revelation is most likely the result of angelic messages. Revelation 1:1: “?He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.” Then, in the last chapter of Revelation, a curse is pronounced on anyone who adds or takes away from the words of the book (Revelation 22:18-19). Friends, don?t look to angels, or anything else for that matter, to provide you with new messages from God. Everything that God wants you to know is found in this book!

Angels Never Take the Place of God the Father. God?s good angels refuse to be worshipped. In Revelation 22:8-9, the Apostle John is overcome by all that he has heard and seen: “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel…But he said to me, ?Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!?” Good angels never draw attention to themselves. They can get our attention, but they always do it for God?s sake, not their own. When Biblical angels discharge their duty and deliver their tidings, they withdraw from human contact. They don?t stay long because they don?t want us to focus on them; they want us to worship God. One other thought in this regard. Angels are not to be prayed to. They may help deliver answers to prayer, but the Bible never suggests that we should direct our requests to them.

Angels Never Take the Place of Jesus. Angels are not the go-between for us. 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” In the whole scheme of things, Jesus is center stage; angels are just the supporting cast. Like fans of a famous actor, 1 Peter 1:12 says that “angels long to look into the things” that Jesus has accomplished. The picture here is of angels bending over, trying to peer into the truth of salvation through Jesus. They?re intrigued by the whole idea of redemption.

Christmas cannot be explained apart from the thin places. Ray Pritchard puts it strongly: “If you take the supernatural out of Christianity, all you have is a religious book club.” Let me summarize what we?ve learned today.

CONCLUSION

1.Don?t be afraid of God?s purposes.

When Mary got the news about God?s purpose for her life she said in Luke 1:38: “I am the Lord?s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Are you ready to surrender to God?s purposes right now?

2. Don?t be afraid when everything seems to go wrong.

Joseph?s world was being wiped out and yet he chose to hold on to what was true and to do what God was asking him to do. Matthew 1:24: “He did what the Lord commanded.” Matthew 2:14: “So he got up?” Matthew 2:21: “So he got up?” What are you going to do? Are you going to stew? Or are you going to get up and do what is right?

3. Don?t be afraid of the good news.

God is giving you a gift this Christmas and He wants you to respond by receiving it. The shepherds could have ignored the good news but they were so moved by the majesty of the glory of God that they had to move. Did you know that angels like to party? I used to think of them as boring and a bit predictable. They certainly don?t seem very spontaneous or very fun. Don?t they strike you as a serious bunch? After all, if their job is to magnify God, serve as His messengers and minister to people, how could they have time to do anything else? Luke 15:10 describes how this all comes together: “…I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Whenever an individual repents of sin and receives Jesus into his life, the angels break out into a wild party! They magnify God and minister to us in far greater ways once we respond to the message of good news of great joy.

Friend, what about you? The angels are cheering you on this morning. They want you to surrender your life to Christ?s leadership. All the plans are set for a big celebration. They?re just waiting for you to respond to the invitation. Angels are watching every move you make. They know the spiritual condition of your soul. And they are anxious for you to repent and to receive Christ for salvation before it?s too late. You see, they know what lies ahead for all of us. They understand the joy and rewards that await those who put their faith in Christ; and they know the harsh reality of hell for those who choose not to receive Christ.

Do you want a party thrown in your honor in heaven? Do you want the angels to rejoice? Then, engage your will and receive the free gift of Jesus. Then, not only will know more about the “Angels Out in the Field,” you will have Jesus in you, Immanuel who will always be with you.

J. B. Phillips wrote a wonderful story called, “The Visited Planet” to help us shed the limitations of earthbound thinking and to allow the supernatural to break over us afresh (see www.ccel.org).

Once upon a time a very young angel was being shown the splendors and glories of the universes by a senior and experienced angel?Finally he was shown?a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.

“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger. “Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What?s special about that one?” “That,” replied his senior solemnly, “is the Visited Planet.” “Visited?” said the little one. “You don?t mean visited by ——–? “Indeed I do. That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant?has been visited by our young Prince of Glory.” And at these words he bowed his head reverently. The little angel?s face wrinkled in disgust. “Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?” “I do, and I don?t think He would like you to call them ?creeping, crawling creatures? in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”

The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.

“Close your eyes for a moment,” said the senior angel, “and we will go back in what they call Time.” “Now look!” And as the little angel did as he was told, there appeared here and there on the dull surface of the globe little flashes of light, some merely momentary and some persisting for quite a time. “Every flash and glow of light that you see is something of the Father?s knowledge and wisdom breaking into the minds and hearts of people?Not many people, you see, can hear His Voice or understand what He says, even though He is speaking gently and quietly to them all the time.”

“Why are they so blind and deaf and stupid?” asked the junior angel rather crossly.

“It is not for us to judge them. We who live in the Splendor have no idea what it is like to live in the dark. We hear the music and the Voice like the sound of many waters every day of our lives, but to them – well, there is much darkness and much noise and much distraction upon the earth. Only a few who are quiet and humble and wise hear His Voice. But watch, for in a moment you will see something truly wonderful.”

The Earth went on turning and circling round the sun, and then quite suddenly, in the upper half of the globe, there appeared a light, tiny but so bright in its intensity that both the angels hid their eyes. “I think I can guess,” said the little angel in a low voice. “That was the Visit, wasn?t it?” “Yes, that was the Visit. The Light Himself went down there and lived among them; but in a moment?the light will go out.” “But why? Could He not bear their darkness and stupidity? Did He have to return here?” “No, it wasn?t that,” returned the senior angel. His voice was stern and sad. “They failed to recognize Him for Who He was – or at least only a handful knew Him. For the most part they preferred their darkness to His Light, and in the end they killed Him.”

“The fools, the crazy fools! They don?t deserve —-” “Neither you nor I, nor any other angel, knows why they were so foolish and so wicked. Nor can we say what they deserve or don?t deserve. But the fact remains, they killed our Prince of Glory while He was Man amongst them?Watch now, but be ready to cover your eyes again.” In utter blackness the earth turned round three times, and then there blazed with unbearable radiance a point of light. “What now?” asked the little angel, shielding his eyes. “They killed Him all right, but He conquered death. The thing most of them dread and fear all their lives He broke and conquered. He rose again, and a few of them saw Him and from then on became His utterly devoted slaves.”

“Thank God for that,” said the little angel. “Amen. Open your eyes now, the dazzling light has gone. The Prince has returned to His Home of Light. But watch the Earth now.” As they looked, in place of the dazzling light there was a bright glow, which throbbed and pulsated. And then as the Earth turned, little points of light spread out. A few flickered and died; but for the most part the lights burned steadily, and as they continued to watch, in many Parts of the globe there was a glow over many areas.

“You see what is happening?” asked the senior angel. “The bright glow is the company of loyal men and women He left behind, and with His help they spread the glow and now lights begin to shine all over the Earth.” “Yes, yes,” said the little angel impatiently, “but how does it end? Will the little lights join up with each other? Will it all be light, as it is in Heaven?” His senior shook his head. “We simply do not know,” he replied. “It is in the Father?s hands. Sometimes it is agony to watch and sometimes it is joy unspeakable. The end is not yet. But now I am sure you can see why this little ball is so important. He has visited it; He is working out His Plan upon it.” “Yes, I see, though I don?t understand. I shall never forget that this is the Visited Planet.”

Series NavigationPrevious in SeriesNext in Series
This entry was posted in Christmas, Sermons, Sunday Morning Service and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.