Hebrews 1:4-14 Thinking about angels
Today we celebrate St Michael and All Angels
And, based on our reading from Hebrews 1, we’re going to think about angels
1. The angels worship the Son of God
v5: ‘For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son’ .. and again, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’
Last week we read from Isaiah 6, where angels worship God and proclaim: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’
Or we think of the joy of the angels as they praise God, when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is born: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favours’ (Luke 2:14)
And John, in the book of Revelation, as he glimpses that world – that new creation - which is already there, beyond space and time, ‘hears the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing’
The angels worship God. It is not something they have to do. It is not something that God needs. When they worship God, they are simply declaring the truth – and it is their delight and their joy.
Just like a lover delights in praising the beloved, so the angels delight in praising God.
Worship is much bigger than me or you or us. Worship is going on all around us. If only our eyes were opened, we would see thousands upon thousands of angels declaring the praise of God. When we come to worship, we join in with the worship of the angels, the worship of heaven.
While I was preparing this, I came across an article about Bernadette Power. She was a Catholic, lived in Northern Ireland and tells of the 28 Aug 1987 when her life changed. She was in the car with her family, when Loyalist paramilitaries opened fire on them. Three hours after the shooting her husband died, and one of her children was in the operating theatre. Her second son had been injured although this had not been recognised yet. Bernadette writes, “For me, it was outside human.”
She continues, “The strangest thing was that while all this was going on somewhere within the recesses of my being, I could hear -- this sounds really daft, but this is real, I speak this in Jesus’ name -- I could feel like an inner worship of angels or something, and they were singing at this high pitch the Magnificat, ‘My soul glorifies the Lord.’ It went something like, ‘My soul glorifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour. In God, my Saviour, my soul rejoices.’ This was echoing within me. .. Although I was in fear and trembling, there was an inner part of the Holy Spirit who was keeping things under control.”
When we worship, we echo the worship of the angels, and of the saints – the men and women of God – of the past.
And we say in our service: ‘Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you and saying: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might ..’
2. The angels serve the Son of God
v6: ‘Of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire’ (quoting Psalm 104:4)
In the court of heaven angels delight to serve God: so, for instance, in that passage from Isaiah 6, we are told that ‘Seraphs were in attendance above him’
And in the gospels, we are told of two occasions when angels come to serve Jesus. They are both at critical moments, when he is facing the most severe temptation:
a) In the beginning when he is in the wilderness being tempted
Mark writes, ‘He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him’ (Mark 1:13)
That is reflected in the icon of Jesus at his baptism. The hands of the angels are covered with towels, a symbol of service.
Luke tells us (at least in one or two of the earlier manuscripts that we have of Luke) that when Jesus is praying before he is crucified, ‘.. an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength’. (Luke 22:43)
The angels delight to serve the Son of God.
3. The angels are sent by God to serve the people of God
‘Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?’ (Hebrews 1:14)
They are messengers.
That is literally what the word ‘angel’ means. They bring the word of God to people.
Just a few examples:
Three angels visit Abraham and tell him that Sara will have a child.
(We see them in the icon of the Trinity)
An angel speaks to Moses through the burning bush
An angel appears to Manoah the father of Samson
An angel appears to Gideon
And in the New Testament:
It is the angel Gabriel who speaks to Mary and tells her that she is going to be the mother of the Son of God.
An angel appears to Joseph, in a dream, when Jesus is born – not just once, but three times.
An angel tells the women, when they get to the tomb, that Jesus has risen
An angel tells the disciples at the ascension that Jesus will return
And there are occasions – rare but they do happen – when God speaks to us through his angels.
Debbie was telling me of her friend who, for several days, was sitting and praying beside her dying Godmother’s bed. Her Godmother appeared to be unconscious but probably could hear what was going on. On the day before she had to go, as she was praying, she suddenly saw in the corner of the room a huge man – so tall that he had to stoop right down to fit into the room. She asked him if he had come to take her godmother, but the man replied, that he was not ready to take her because, although everything was ready for her there, her Godmother was not quite ready to go.
That story is unusual. I suspect few, if any of us, will have had such an experience.
But that does not mean that you have not met with an angel. You may have met an angel without realising that it is an angel. That mysterious stranger who just happened to be just there at just the right time and who said just the right thing. Please don’t think that angels are always huge or have wings. The Seraph of Isaiah 6 have wings, but it seems that all the other angels in the bible look just like ordinary human beings.
That is why the writer to the Hebrews tells us: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it’. (Hebrews 13:2)
That is quite a thought. Every stranger who you meet could potentially be an angel, a messenger of God
There is, however, one warning. However mysterious or impressive the person who speaks to us, even if they are huge or have wings, we are not automatically to believe what they say. We are always to test it against God’s word.
Paul writes to some Christians in Asia Minor, ‘But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed’. (Galatians 1:8)
They protect the people of God
They fight on behalf of the people of God
The angel leader, Archangel Michael, gets quite a few mentions in the bible. He is described as ‘the prince of the people of Israel’ (Daniel 10:21) who fights against ‘the prince of Persia’ (Daniel 10:13). And because of that, an angel was able to come to Daniel in order to help him understand the word of God. ‘I have come to help you understand what is to happen to your people at the end of days’ (Daniel 10:14).
In Jude 9, the archangel Michael contends with the devil for the body of Moses (I have no idea what that is about!)
In Revelation 12:10, Michael and the angels fight Satan and his demons who is described as ‘the accuser of our comrades’.
This again is where we need to be very careful.
It is easy to speculate, to take a verse from the bible and develop a whole angelology. People have theories about angels based on a very few verses. And there are no controls, and often they are nonsense.
We are not to think of this as a physical battle, but a battle in the spiritual realms – beyond our comprehension
And we are not to think of the angels doing anything that can add to our salvation. Jesus, by his incarnation, death and resurrection has defeated Satan and won the victory. In him, and with him, we have everything that we need.
Hebrews 1 is written precisely to challenge those who were making more of angels than they were of Jesus Christ. Look, he says, angels are the servants of the Son of God. They are down here. Jesus is the Son of God and he is up there.
But it does seem that we can speak of guardian angels. Individuals have angels (Matthew 18:10), churches have angels (Revelation 1:20), and even nations have angels (Daniel 10).
And in the New Testament on two occasions we see them breaking open prisons. They spring Peter and John (Acts 5.19). A few chapters later, an angel brings Peter out of a maximum-security prison (Acts 12.7).
That seems to be an angel speciality: in his book The Heavenly Man, Brother Yun writes of how he is led out of the Zhengzhou Maximum Security prison past many guards, and nobody sees them.
Billy Graham in his book Angels tells of the missionary John Paton, who was working in the New Hebrides in the South Pacific at the end of the C19th. He describes one occasion when their hut was surrounded by a hostile crowd armed to the teeth. They were completely on their own. All his wife and he could do was to pray. The crowd came no closer and at daybreak left. Some time later, when some of the people were converted, he asked them about that night. ‘Why didn’t you attack?’ And they said, ‘We could not. Your house was too well guarded. There was a host of people standing around your home that night’.
What I think is significant is that in all four of those cases, people were rescued or protected in order that the Word of God could continue to be proclaimed.
So, what are to make of all this?
Do we believe in angels?
Absolutely: It is foolish to reject something simply because we do not understand it, and there is too much in the Bible about them - they appear on 300 occasions; and even though I’m not sure that I have met with an angel (I’ve met many people who are like angels), I know people who have.
Do we pray to angels?
We don’t need to. They are the servants of the Son of God.
Why call on the servant to help when we can call on the Lord Jesus himself? They would have to ask his permission before they could do anything, in any case. I also notice that even Jesus himself doesn’t pray to the angels. He says that if he wanted to, he could pray to the Father, and the Father would send more than 60000 angels to rescue him. (Matthew 26:53).
We pray to the Father or the Son of God, and they will rescue us by whatever means is appropriate.
People say that when we die, we become like angels.
I don’t think that we need to wait till we die! We can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be like angels here.
We can serve the Son of God.
We can serve the people of God – protect and guard and preach so that the victory of Jesus over sin and death can be proclaimed.
We do it in the visible realm. The angels do it in the invisible.
And the visible and the invisible join together, we join the angels, in the worship of God.
But when we die, we are not called to become like angels. We have a greater destiny. The Son of God became a human being, not an angel, in order that human beings might become sons and daughters of God.
1 John 3:2, “What we do know is this: when he [Jesus] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is”.
The astonishing glory that God has given to human beings, to you and me, means that we are not called to become like angels. We are called to become like the Son of God himself.