Billy Graham has a book about Angels, you may have read or heard about it. As it is the Christmas season, I will look at their relationship to Christmas. First of all, their ministry is spiritual. They are spiritual, pure spirit, in that they have no bodies. They assumed some sort of physical appearance in the Old Testament and to Zachariah and Mary, but primarily and basically they are spirits and their service is of that sort. They are able to have physical effects like when one of them let Peter out of prison. But for the most part God has given the physical world to us for our bodies and he has given us the angels to take care of our souls. We have important spiritual needs which are often forgotten and overlooked. Think of the oceans of time we spend on our bodies to the neglect of our spirits. Partially in ignorance of the work of the angels who are created to minister to our souls. Just how they affect us physically is hard to explain, but then we don’t understand the effects of our souls or spirits on our bodies. How is it that a corpse can’t do anything despite having everything needed for life but is missing that essence or essential element of life or spirit. How angels affect our spirit without means or media is difficult to understand, but they do.
In the case of Christ we read that after his temptation that angels came to minister to him, and I like to think that they did too during his temptation. And if they refreshed him physically like they did to Elijah, then they may have done this for a starving Christ. But there was spiritual and mental encouragement too. In the Garden of Gethsemane we read that an angel came to strengthen him as he was sweating blood so that he could go to the cross. We have examples of that in our own lives, such as when one goes to surgery and knows that there are people praying for him/her. It gives a psychological support, even though you have to go through it alone, knowing that others are supporting you. But not only in suffering, but in education where there is the influence of one person upon another, one spirit on another. Now how angels do it is more mysterious (as an aside, no where in the Bible does it say they sing), but their spirit directly on our spirit affects us. I think that is worth remembering and emphasizing because our first thought in connection with Psalm 91, “He shall give his angels charge over you to keep you in all your ways,” is a physical one, isn’t it? And we conjure pictures of children being kept safe in accidents or accidental ingestion of poisons but that is just the beginning. “He shall give his angels charge over you” to keep you spiritually. Satan told Jesus, “Why don’t you jump off of here? The angels will catch you.” And they might have, could have, but the angels whispered to Jesus, “Don’t do it.” Jesus replied to Satan, quoting scripture, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Satan was quoting scriptures and the angels came back with other scriptures, calling to mind passages that he had learned. This is not unique in Jesus’ case. Think of the prayers offered up today when a student takes a test, praying that God brings to mind the things he/she has studied.
The angels work prior to Christmas was more literal, more physical in those days. And today that isn’t necessary. They don’t appear to us physically because we know that they do exist, and that is where faith comes in. In the Old Testament, the Bible wasn’t written yet so they came in physical appearance to Zachariah and Mary and others. In Psalm 8 it says in some translations “that we are made a little lower than the angels” and in others “that we are made a little lower than God.” And this ambiguity is purposeful because it means both. In the Old Testament even the saints were inferior to both God and the angels, first of all by the fact of being physical. The word that is translated both God and angels is “Spirits” (elohim). That can include the Triune God or the angels. Now in a certain way having a body is superior to not having a body. It gives you certain advantages like reproduction. If there was any envy on the part of the angels, it may be that Gabriel would envy being a mother or a father, never having that responsibility or honor. Being without a body has its compensations in that it doesn’t need food, is not limited by time and space the way we are. But man is inferior to angels not only by physical limitations but also in knowledge, and in age and experience.
And since the fall there is this matter of sinfulness. In the Old Testament the primary function of angels seems to have been to bridge the gap not between God the Creator and man the creature, because angels are creatures, but between God, the Holy, and man, that awful sin-cursed, hell-deserving wretch. Now God can put good ideas into the mind of a sinner as well a saint, but it is “spiritually” impossible for God to talk directly to a sinner. And that is where the angels come in. That’s why the angel Gabriel came down to talk to Mary, the “Holy virgin Mary,” because despite her “holiness” she was a sinner, and an Old Testament sinner. The new was going to begin with that baby she carried, when he died and went to heaven. That wonderful woman, and all praise and honor and glory be due her, carried that baby in her tummy for 9 months, but it wasn’t until pentecost where she carried him in her heart. And that is why Jesus responded the way he did when asked about how fortunate his mother must be to have borne him and responded that the ones more fortunate were those that carried him in their hearts.
In the New Testament the angels’ form is non-visible. That is where faith comes in. If the angels continued in a visible form, everyone would believe in them, like the shepherds. So we believe that they are keeping our children and us, while the world may believe that it was just luck that someone didn’t parish in a car accident. And they have a different ministry. No longer to they mediate anymore because the mediator came. And we don’t need priests anymore or angels anymore on that score. We can just walk into the Holy of Holies says Hebrews. And that is why Hebrews in quoting Psalm 8 says that “we are made a little lower than God.” We passed up the angels. In the Old Testament, people were inferior to the angels but no longer. Because we have the Holy Righteousness of God in us. We are not lower than the angels because we see Christ, by faith. We are the sons of Christ. So in the Old Testament they had the angel of the covenant that led the Israelites, that was a guardian between them and other nations. But now we don’t have a guardian angel anymore, we don’t need any mediators; but now they have been placed between us and Satan, not between us and God. Now they are fighting our battles for us. And it is in that conflict, all to the glory of God, that we are the commanders of angels.