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Entertaining Angels:  The Servants of Christ

Second in the sermon series Entertaining Angels
January 10, 2010

The Angels Sing ‘Worthy is the Lamb”
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.12In 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!”

13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation 5:1-14 NIV

Angels and Other Wacky Beings

When I was about 10 years old, our family bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias.  I think my grandmother was selling them, actually, so we probably got a good deal.  But I remember the day those red hardbound books arrived.  We unpacked them and I began to look through them, amazed that any subject I could think of was included in the World Book.  Well, now we have the internet, which is a lot like a set of encyclopedias, except with lots of bad information.  Unlike the trustworthy World Book, the internet is full of both accurate, true, and totally ridiculous stuff.

If you google — and for those of you who don’t know the word “google,” it was named the word of the decade by the American Dialect Society — if you google, or search the internet, for the subject “angels” you get a lot of really interesting information. One entry I ran across mentioned both angels and ascended masters.  Angels I was familiar with, but I had never heard of “ascended masters.”

As I read along in the article for that website, they listed the ascended masters.  Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ wife on the earth and their two children, Buddha, and some other folks I hadn’t heard of.  The ascended masters, apparently had been angels, retired from their stints as heavenly beings, came to earth, married, and so on.  In other words, a pretty New Age sort of belief system, with no reference to Scripture, or even other ancient texts.

One entry on that same website responded to the question, “Am I a Christian?”  The answer was that the writer grew up in the Christian faith, but now with this new knowledge of angels, ascended masters, and some other sort of revelation had transcended the orthodox version of Christianity.  Love was mentioned a lot, too, I recall.

Now, my point in telling you all of this about ascended masters, none of which is either Biblical or true, is that some people want to latch onto angels in a sort of New Age spiritualism that separates angels from God the Father who created them, and Jesus Christ, in whose service they are engaged.

Let me say it more simply:  You can’t talk about angels if you don’t talk about Jesus.  Angels serve the Christ of God, the Anointed One, the Messiah.  So, any attempt to separate angels from the ministry of Christ is an erroneous effort to separate angels from their purpose.

Angels in the Life of Jesus

Last Wednesday night I handed out a partial list of the Biblical references to angels in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Let’s run down their presence in Jesus’ earthly ministry quickly:

1.  An angel announces the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist. Now this is my favorite angel passage because in it we get a glimpse into the sense of humor of the angels, and in this instance Gabriel the Archangel no less.  As Gabriel announces to John’s father the news that Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a son and they are to name him John, Zechariah, who is a priest in the Temple of God, begins to question Gabriel.  Here’s the exchange:

11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.[b] 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”  — Luke 1:11-20 NIV

Don’t you just love Gabriel’s answer — “I am Gabriel and I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”

2.  Luke records Gabriel’s appearance to Mary announcing that she will bear the savior of the world, and Matthew records an angel’s appearance in a dream to Joseph assuring him that it is okay to marry Mary.

3.  Angels announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds.

4.  Angels send Joseph, Mary and Jesus off to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod the king, who is seeking to kill this newborn King of the Jews.  When the danger is over, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream again and tells him to go back home.

5.  After Jesus’ baptism, which we celebrate on this Sunday, Jesus goes into the wilderness where Satan tempts him.  After Jesus meets that challenge, and after he is exhausted from 40-days of fasting and praying, the angels come to minister to him in the desert.

6.  Angels comfort him in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Luke 22:41-43)

41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

7.  Angels open Jesus’ grave at the resurrection. (Matt 28:2)

2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.

8.  Angels witness his resurrection. (Luke 24:5-7)

4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen!

9.  Angels explain his ascension. (Acts 1:10-11)

10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

10. Angels sing his praises in heaven. (Rev 5:11-12)

11.  Angels accompany Him at his coming. (Matt 25:31)

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
And, it doesn’t end there because the Book of Revelation is full of scenes in heaven where angels sing, praise, confirm, and worship Jesus as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
When you speak of angels you have to speak about Jesus because the angels belong to him.

Jesus Talks About Angels

But angels don’t just appear to Jesus. Jesus also speaks of angels as he ministers to people. Most of what Jesus said involved angels gathering the people for the final judgment, or acting as the messenger of Christ to summon them into the presence of God, like in this passage from Matthew 16:27 —
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

But Jesus also gives us some other clues about angels.

In speaking of little children, Jesus said ” See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” — Matthew 18:10

From that passage we get the idea of guardian angels, assigned to us, and little children in particular, to watch over and care for us.

And, in a question about marriage, Jesus says that those who have died…”At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” — Matthew 22:30

We’ll talk more about angels at death later in this series, but Jesus does give us clues as to the characteristics of angels in these and other verses.

Making Angels Happy

But the most important thing Jesus tells us about angels isn’t about how angels travel, or about what angels look like. The most important thing Jesus tells us about angels is what makes them happy. Listen to what Jesus says —

8″Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” — Luke 15:8-10

Angels are happy when people come to God. The mission of angels is to carry the message of God, and imagine how glad they are when that message is heard and received. When the message they deliver through their care, their ministry, their obedience, brings a positive response, the angels rejoice.

Angels are first of all concerned about our relationship with their Lord and ours, Jesus. Nothing else matters. Angels stand ready to do the work of God, and that work is reclaiming God’s creation.

That is why the angels in heaven are singing. But it was not always so. John the Revelator writes, in the passage we read today, that for a moment in heaven which may have lasted 10-million years, for one moment the angels are silenced. The angels have carried the message of God for uncounted millennia. But now John says there is a message, a scroll in the hand of God. The angels see the scroll, but it is sealed with seven seals.

In the first century Roman world, when the emperor sent a message, he sealed it with his ring, and if it were of special importance, he sealed it more than once. That message could only be opened by the one intended to receive it upon penalty of death. And the angels know this scroll in the hand of God is not for them. For the first time in the history of heaven, God has a message that the angels cannot deliver.

And so the Bible says, “a mighty angel” cries out “Who is worthy to open the seals?” And no on is found. And John says, “I wept and wept.” John, even as he sees this vision and lives this revelation, John understands that if no one can open the scroll that the final word of God will never be heard. But one of the elders, one of only four, says “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Finally, after searching through all of creation for one who is worthy to open the seals on the scroll, finally, at last, One is found.

The Lamb of God who stands in the middle of the throne, symbolizing his preeminence and centrality. This Lamb is worthy because he has been slain, and with his blood has purchased for God men and women, boys and girls, “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” His death, his resurrection, his victory makes him worthy to open the scroll of God, to pronounce the message of God, to finish the Word of God that the angels cannot speak.

And so the angels sing a new song. But….
This is not the song of bondage for the chains have been broken.
This is not the song of poverty for heaven is enriched with his presence.
This is not the song of sorrow for night has passed away and there is no more sorrow, no more tears, no more death.
This is not the song of longing for in Christ all the longing of mankind has been satisfied.
This is not the song of the past for the past has gone, and everything has been made new.

No, the angels sing a new song, a song that has never been sung before because there was no one to sing it to. But now they sing a new song —

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

You cannot speak of angels without speaking of Jesus.

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”