Angelology (Luke 1:1-25)Pastor Jon Truax, December 3, 2017
Part of the Christmas series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.
Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
A man was walking by a construction site when he heard a voice yell, "STOP!!!" The man came to a halt abruptly, and seconds later a brick came hurtling down from above and landed in his path. He looked around but saw no trace of whoever’s voice he heard.
A day or two after that, he was driving to work. In the midst of the blaring music in the car he heard the same voice yell even louder "STOP!!!" He immediately screeched on the brakes. A huge truck blew past the front of his car from an intersection.
The man realized he couldn't have heard another person’s voice in his car, so acknowledging a divine intervention he went to church to seek answers. An angel itself manifested from one of the frescoes.
"Who are you?" asked the man.
"I am your guardian angel. It is my duty to protect you from harm's way. Since your birth, I have been intervening on your behalf against all peril," the angel replied. Then, seeing the dumbfounded look on his face, said, "I imagine you have some questions for me."
"You bet I do," the man said. "Where were you on my wedding day?"
Angelology. That’s quite a mouthful. How many think that’s just a word I made up? No, I didn’t make it up! Angelology is a real word. It means the study of angels. It is a specific area within the broader discipline of theology, the study of God.
Why would anyone ever study angels? Many Christians have questions about angels, and there are a lot of misconceptions out there about guardian angels and people turning into angels after they die. Angelology helps us to answer some of these questions. Advent gives us the unique opportunity to peer deeper into the mystery of angels. The story of Jesus Christ begins with Christmas and the story of Christmas begins with angels! Both Matthew and Luke tell of angelic visitations. An angel named Gabriel makes at least 2 appearances in Luke chapter 1, and there is a heavenly choir of angels found in Luke chapter 2.
As Jan read for us this morning, Luke describes an older couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth who have no children. While Zechariah is performing his duties as a priest, “Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.”
This is a common reaction to angels whenever they appear. People in the Bible are reported as falling down as though dead, being overcome with fear, and – in the King James Version of the Bethlehem shepherds – being “sore afraid”. A lot of times we imagine angels as chubby, harmless, baby-like cherubs, like around Valentine’s Day. That is NOT a biblical picture of angels. We would find them awesome and overpowering rather than cute and cuddly. Della Reese of “Touched by an Angel” died last month at the age of 86. Anybody like that show? If you were really touched by an angel, it would be a terrifying experience!
Let’s start at the beginning. Just what is an angel? An angel is a created, supernatural, spiritual being. An angel’s primary role is to serve as God’s messenger, to be an intermediary between heaven and earth. Angels are sometimes referred to as the “heavenly host”, which carries with it connotations of military bearing. A “host” is an army, and angels are described in the Bible as encamping, having a command structure, engaging in combat and even war. Angels sometimes have swords, like those appearing to Balaam and Joshua in the Old Testament. There appear to be different categories of angels, like seraphim and cherubim.
The Seraphim are literally translated as "burning ones". Appearing in Isaiah 6, Seraphim are the highest angelic class and serve as the caretakers of God's throne. They continuously shout praises: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" According to Isaiah, the Seraphim are described as fiery six-winged beings; with two wings they cover their faces, with another two they cover their feet, and with the last two they fly. This may not be a literal physical appearance, but a symbolic description of their power.
Likewise, the Cherubim are depicted as having four faces: one of a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle. This encompasses the four spheres of animal life. They have four conjoined wings covered with eyes, a lion's body, and the feet of an ox. Cherubim often serve as guards. They guard the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden and the throne of God. The cherubim are mentioned in several Old Testament books.
There are also archangels among the ranks of angels. An archangel is a chief angel. One is mentioned by name in the Bible: Michael, in the Book of Jude. Some people surmise that Gabriel is also an archangel. There is extra-biblical speculation about others as well.
In our Nativity set at home, we have about ten angels that I’ve brought over this morning to add a little color to this message. One of them has a sword. Some hold trumpets, one has a scroll. These are things we sometimes read about angels having in the Bible, especially in the Book of Revelation where there are A LOT of angels mentioned.
The author of Hebrews probably has the most to tell us directly about angels. He writes, “Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” Then, in response to those saying that Jesus was merely an angel or even lower than the angels, he wrote, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’ Of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.’ But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.’…But to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?”
Not all the people of Jesus’ day believed in angels. There were two main religious parties: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Bible tells us in Acts 23:8, “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.” Surprisingly enough, for all of Jesus’ debates and arguments with the Pharisees, He was actually closer to them in their theology and angelology than He was to the Sadducees. Jesus believed in angels, and spirits, and the resurrection. So should we!
An angel is not something that people become when they die. That’s Hollywood, and as much as I like, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Clarence Oddbody trying to earn his wings is about as far from the Bible’s description of angels as you can get! Angels are not creatures that we become; they are their own separate type of creature. You won’t become an angel, and an angel won’t become a human. However, the reason for this confusion may be something that Jesus had to say about our resurrection bodies. In response to the Sadducees’ doubts about being raised from the dead, Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” So we won’t become angels, but we may become like them in some respects.
In Matthew, an angel also appears at the beginning of the Christmas story, before Jesus was even born. Here’s what Matthew tells us, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” One difference between Zechariah’s experience and Matthew’s is that Matthew’s is described as being more like a dream than a vision.
It’s not surprising that we find angels all over the Christmas story, because angels actually appear all throughout the life of Christ – at His birth as well as at His death, at His resurrection as well as in the promise of His Second Coming. We see angels strengthening Christ after His time of temptation in the wilderness and again during his trial in the Garden of Gethsemane. When He was being arrested, Jesus proclaimed, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Twelve legions of angels would be more than 80,000 angels! We find angels again at the empty tomb following the Resurrection, and we see them suddenly appearing at the ascension as the disciples see Jesus return to heaven.
Interestingly, angels appear not only in advance of Christ’s first coming on Christmas, they will also feature largely in His Second Coming, which we look forward to during this season of Advent. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.”
Let me end this morning with this question: WHY are angels all over the story of Jesus Christ, and especially of Christmas?
In Christmas, something very special is happening. Heaven is breaking into earth. Worlds are colliding. The Son of God is about to take on flesh, to be incarnated, to be born as a baby. That is worthy of dispatching angels to explain what is going on! God wants His people to know the supreme spiritual importance of what’s happening, so He sends Gabriel to Zechariah to give him the message: “Now’s the time!
The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” This angel’s mission was to reveal God’s plan to Zechariah and give him the information that he would need to know in order to raise John the Baptist for his role in going ahead of the Messiah.
Unfortunately, Zechariah had doubt in his heart concerning the angel’s truthfulness and the veracity of his message. Not a good move.
Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
As an angel, Gabriel isn’t only a messenger; he also has spiritual power. He is able to back up his words and give Zechariah a sign that what he says is true. That sign is the sound of silence! Zechariah won’t be able to speak until the angel’s message comes true.
Here’s the question for us: Do we listen to the message of the angels? The Christmas carols implore us to hark, to hear, to heed what they have to tell us. We shouldn’t have hearts that doubt like Zechariah, or our witness may be struck mute, too, like his. Instead, let us share with others the good news that the angels were sent to share with us: “Christ is born in Bethlehem! Glory to the newborn King!” Amen!
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1Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. 5There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, 9According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. 16And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 18And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men. (KJV)