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If you're one of those for whom 'seeing is believing,' then there's a lot of God's creation that you're going to miss out on. Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not real. A significant portion of what God created is invisible. Well, at least to us it is. "God SAW everything He made" and He still does.
We believe that there's more to this world than meets the eye simply because "the bible tells me so." In the Apostles Creed, we say, "I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth." That sums it up pretty well. But for those who like it spelled out in more detail, the Nicene Creed adds, "of all things visible and invisible."
Angels are a part of that invisible side of God's creation. We're not told when or how He made them, but it must have been somewhere in those six, 24-hour days in the beginning, because by the time we get to the 7th day we read, "God finished the work that He had done." This means that He's finished creating. It's all there. Angels included. God created a fixed number of them. They don't marry and they don't reproduce. There are just as many angels in existence now as there was in the beginning – 'myriads upon myriads and thousands upon thousands' writes John.
I. The Facts About Angels
The bible tells us that angels are 'spirit beings.' They may become visible when absolutely necessary, but they never take on human flesh and blood like ours or like God took on when He became man.
As an important part of God's creation, angels deserve our attention. Our problem is, we either pay them too little attention or too much. We make a big mistake when we pay too little attention to the presence of angels because we simply don't know what the Bible says about them. But if you read your Bible paying attention to the presence of angels, you realize is that they're all over the place.
We would expect to find angels in heaven and they certainly are. But in heaven, the angels are VISIBLE. The prophet Isaiah sees and hears angels gathered around the throne of God in heaven. He describes them in great detail and he tells that they're singing the Sanctus right out of the Lutheran Service Book – "Holy, Holy, Holy." In his Revelation of heaven, John sees angels and they he speaks with them and they with him. From his heavenly perspective, John tells us that angels are being sent from heaven to earth on special missions as God's agents, doing His bidding.
What we may be surprised to find however is the amount of angelic activity here on earth. In the Old Testament, they're in the Garden of Eden with flaming swords. They're visiting Abraham and Sarah to tell them to start looking for a crib and some baby clothes. An angel tells Abraham to stand down just as he's ready to plunge the knife into his son Isaac. There are angels all over the place while Israel is in Egypt and while they make their trek through the dessert. Angels appear to kings and prophets and even to donkeys. There are angels of life who announce the life that God is giving. There are angels of death who announce the life that God is taking.
It's the same in the New Testament. An angel appears to Zechariah to tell him that Elizabeth is going to have a son whom he's to name John. And of course, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and Joseph to tell them that Mary is going to be with child and they are to name Him Jesus, "for He will save His people from their sins." Angels announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds tending their flock outside Bethlehem. Angels attend the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Angels attend to Jesus after His temptation in the desert. Angels are doing the explaining at His resurrection and 40 days and angels are the ones who explain to the disciples the meaning of Jesus' ascension. It's no surprise that when Jesus comes again in glory, He will be flanked by angels.
After the Ascension an angel leads Phillip to the Ethiopian eunuch. An angel broke Peter's chains and led him out of prison. An angel struck down King Herod because of his wickedness. In all, angels are mentioned 125 just in Acts through Revelation. They're all over the place.
All of this and much more is going on all around us, all the time, in the invisible realm of God's creation.
In our Gospel reading for this morning, we see that angels are God's messengers, not just for the big occasion, eternally significant events in the Kingdom of God, but they're at work watching over God's 'little children.' "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Mat.18:10).
Jesus is simply that the promise made through the Psalmist to the Old Testament Church is still being carried out in the New Testament Church. "For [the Lord] will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone." (Psalm 91:11-12). Think of them as 'body guards.' except they're 'body and soul guards.'
But, just who are these "little ones" that Jesus refers to? Are guardian angels restricted to children under a certain age, and then once they're big enough to get on the school bus, they're job is finished. No, not at all.
In fact, the greater we become in the kingdom of heaven, the more like little children before God we become. Humble, lowly, fully aware that we can't take care of ourselves and we need God to take care of us. In fact, chronological age has little to do with being a 'little child' before God. Everyone who is a "child of God" has a guardian angel watching over them.
Every time the Catechumenate meets for class we always open with Luther's morning prayer and close with his evening prayer. The Sunday School Opening uses Luther's morning prayer in it's Opening every Sunday. In both of these prayers, Luther has us conclude the same way, saying, "may your holy angels be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen." What a wonderful way to acknowledge God's gift of guardian angels to watch over us.
II. Angels' Joy
As I said, our problem with this whole business of angels is that we either make too little of it or too much of it. We make too much of angels when we pray to them or put our hope in them or think that the Church has set aside this day to honor or worship them. John made this mistake on his tour of heaven. Greeted by his angelic guide, John reports, "I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, 'You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus.'" (Rev.19:9-10).
No, rather, it is as we are reminded that God has created angels to be His agents, that we are once again reminded that He has created us to be His children. As wonderful as the angels are, they are not the apple of God's eye, you are. God does not honor angels by becoming an angel, but He honors you by become a man. God did not give Himself up to death on the cross to save the angels, but He did so to save you. God does not give His body and blood to the angels to eat and drink, but He gives His flesh and blood for those with flesh and blood.
And all this He does for you because you are His beloved. He loves His whole creation. He loves the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees, the sky and the seas. But His greatest love He reserves for you. "For no greater love has a man than this that He lay down His life for His friends." And Jesus said, "I call you my friends," and He laid down His life for you.
Now, that may sound like wonderful good news to you. And I hope it does because it's the best good news you'll ever here. But it didn't sit very well with some the angels in heaven, one in particular. Maybe he was disgusted that God, who is spirit, would take on flesh and bones and enter a material world. Many today think that the material, physical part of God's creation is bad and evil and not worth treating with the kind if respect that Jesus gives it and demands from us.
Or, maybe he was jealous that for all of their angelic flying here and there on their holy missions for God they were not to be the objects of man's attention and devotion. I think that this angel would have been delighted if John were to have fallen at his feet. Remember how much he wanted to Jesus to bend His knee and bow of His head to him there in the desert of temptation?
Whatever the reason, it was an all out war in heaven. "Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon." "And the dragon and his angels fought back but he was defeated… And the dragon was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him." (Rev.12:7-8). What is invisible to you and me is visible to God. Jesus said, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." (Luke 10:18) St. Peter writes to the Church saying, "God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment." (2Peter 2:4).
All of this must have happened sometime after the 7th day, when everything was "very good," and before Genesis, chapter 3, because already, in the Garden of Eden we find Satan, cast down into the earth, disguised as a serpent, saying to the woman, "Did God really say…" Only to hear God say back to him, "Her offspring will crush your head."
There is no hope for Satan and all his fallen angels, for God did not send His Son to die for angels, either the good ones or the bad ones. The good angels never need to repent and the bad angels never will.
But God did send His Son to die for you that you would repent and believe and by believing be saved. Jesus says that every time one, lost sinner on earth repents, all the angels in heaven rejoice. Every time one, big, grown up, independent, human being becomes like a little child before God, the angels in heaven celebrate. Because one more human, for whom Christ paid the highest price, is snatched from Satan's kingdom and brought into the God's kingdom. One more flesh and blood sinner is rescued from death and the grave and filled with the Spirit of life. And one more voice for the choir of angels, archangels and all the company of heaven to laud and magnify the holy, holy, holy name of Jesus Christ.