"You Asked for It" 2009 part 2
Understanding Angels
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 16, 2009



This is our second week in our You Asked for It series of messages. During this series, we’re dealing specifically with topics or passages that some of you requested. And we started off the series last week with what is often a highly controversial and misunderstood topic: Spiritual Warfare.

And the truth is, there’s debate about almost everything we talked about. But the essence of what we discussed was that there is an unseen spiritual realm that exists, and that realm is occupied by spiritual beings… most notably God, but also by angels and demons.

We spent most of our time talking about the evil that is present in this spiritual realm. We talked about how it is believed that Satan himself was an angel who rebelled against God, and was thrown out of Heaven, taking a third of the other angels with him. That itself is a topic of debate, but the idea is that we now know these fallen angels as demons, and they are present even now, opposing God at every turn and working against what He is trying to accomplish in this world.

Now, they may exist in a spiritual realm, but they certainly have an impact on our physical realm. And they can even have an influence on Christ-followers. But the good news is this: the power of these demonic forces is limited. They are powerful… more powerful than you and me… but nowhere close to being as powerful as God. They may oppose God, but they are in no way His equal. They cannot overcome Him, and that means with Him on our side, they cannot overcome us, either. Not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

That’s what we talked about last week… spiritual warfare. This week, we’re going to talk about another request… we’re going to talk about the other side… We’re going to talk about Angels.

VIDEO – ANGELS - from SermonVideos.com

Our society is fascinated by angels. Everyone has their opinions about angels, we have our mental image of what they look like, and probably every one of us here this morning has in our home at least one ornament of an angel… or at least our perception of an angel.

We want to know… What do angels look like? Do we have guardian angels? How many angels are there? Is it possible to see an angel? Do I pray to angels? Will I someday be an angel?

So we have this fascination about angels. But there’s also a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. And that’s probably because of where most of us turn to get our information about angels…

We turn to movies, like “City of Angels” with Nicolas Cage, or “Dogma” with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, or “Meet Joe Black” starring Brad Pitt, or even the classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. That’s an inspiring movie, but really misleading when it comes to angels.

So we turn to television… “Touched by an Angel” was a long-running show that some of you probably watched. As for me, I preferred a show from way back in the 80’s… “Highway to Heaven”, starring Michael Landon. I never missed an episode. But still, not the best place to find out about angels.

So maybe you turn to ancient mythology or even medieval works of art. There’s a lot about angels there, but unfortunately they’re not portrayed very accurately.

So you can turn to some of the popular books or magazines that are out these days. From Time magazine to Ladies’ Home Journal… you can find all sorts of articles about angels. Sophie Burnham published two best-selling secular books, “The Angel Book” and “Angel Letters”. Of course, all of these are basically just opinions without much credibility.

So we look elsewhere and we listen to people tell there stories of experiences they’ve had with angels… how they felt a presence watching over them… how maybe they had a vision…. or how they were in a terrible accident and should have died, but an angel rescued them. Well, okay, but how reliable is that? I mean, I don’t want to discredit the experience, but it gets pretty hard to sort through what’s real and what’s not.

So you can forget all those ways to find out about angels… instead, turn to the guru of all things spiritual, Oprah. Oprah probably shapes our society’s understanding of angels and the spiritual realm more than anyone else. If only she knew what she was talking about.

So what we’re left with is a pretty mixed-up understanding of angels, with a lot of light and fluffy beliefs, drawn from all kinds of inconsistent and inaccurate and contradictory sources… It’s no wonder we get confused about angels.

Billy Graham said this back in 1975:

“When I decided to preach a sermon on angels, I found practically nothing in my library… I soon discovered that little had been written on the subject in this century… I have never heard anyone preach a sermon on angels.”
~ Billy Graham

Back when I was in Bible College, one of the theologians I had to study was Karl Barth. Barth is supposedly an authority on the topic of angels, and he himself said this topic is the “most remarkable and difficult of all.”

But we’re going to give it a shot anyway. So before we talk about what Angels are, let’s talk about what they are not…

What Angels are NOT:

1.    Cute chubby babies with bows & arrows

“Cupid, draw back your bow, and let your arrow go.” This is one of the many images that we have of angels… or at least some angels. But this is basically the image portrayed in some art from the renaissance, and has nothing to do with reality.


2.    What we become after we die

This is one of the most popular beliefs about angels… and it’s wrong! When you die, you do not become an angel. Hey, my father-in-law is here this morning, and his name is Michael, just like one of the angels mentioned in the Bible. And let me tell you, he’s an all-right guy, but he’s no angel. And he’s never gonna be an angel.

You can go to any funeral and there’s almost always someone who will say something like, “he’s an angel now,” or “God needed another angel in that heavenly choir!” It’s a sweet thought, but it’s simply not true. Angels and humans are completely different creations, and humans do not become angels when they die.


3.    All-knowing, all-powerful, or all-present

We talked about this last week in terms of demons. It’s true of all angels, fallen or otherwise. Those are attributes that belong to God and God alone. Angels are pretty smart and have learned a lot about human nature by watching us over the millennia, but they are not all-knowing. They are very powerful… more powerful than you or me… but they are not all-powerful like God is. And they are not all-present. They are confined by time and space. Now, they are pretty fast. Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, would be traveling at a snail’s pace compared to angels… but they cannot be present everywhere at the same time.


4.    Objects of worship

Some people worship angels. But angels are not meant to be worshipped. The apostle Paul made this clear in his New Testament letter to the Colossians. You don’t worship angels, you don’t pray to them, you don’t idolize them.


5.    Halo-wearing, wing-clad, harp-players

Again, these images come mostly out of artwork, some dating all the way back to Greek and Roman times. But there’s nothing in the Bible about angels wearing halos or playing harps. And as for wings, the Bible only makes reference to wings when it comes to cherubim and seraphim… special classes of angelic beings which are portrayed as having wings [Ezekiel 10:20-21, Isaiah 6]… and even then it seems to me like these are part of a vision and are not meant to be a literal description of angels. Remember, they are spiritual beings. They don’t actually have a physical form, we don’t really know what they look like, and they don’t need wings to fly. Oh, and I don’t know of any that actually wore a Roman toga, either.


Okay, so those are some things that angels are not. Now let’s turn our attention to what they are…

What Angels Are:

A.    Angels are created beings

Angels have not always existed. They were created. They have a beginning.

Colossians 1:16 (NLT)
[Christ] made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.

Psalm 148:1-2, 5 (NLT)
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens! Praise him from the skies! Praise him, all his angels! Praise him, all the armies of heaven! … Let every created thing give praise to the Lord, for he issued his command, and they came into being.

So angels are created beings. They’re not native to the physical realm… they exist in the spiritual realm. But they were still created. I don’t know when it happened… maybe it happened at the same time God was creating this physical realm. Or maybe it happened a long time before that. I don’t know when it happened. But I do know that there was a moment in time that God created the angels.

And He didn’t create just a few prototypes. He created bunches of them… too many to count.

Revelation 5:11 (NLT)
Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne…

In other words, there were so many angels present that it would be nigh unto impossible to count them. Angels are created beings, and there are a lot of them.


B.    Angels are invisible spirit beings

Angels are spirits… they don’t have physical bodies.

Hebrews 1:14 (NLT)
Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.

Angels exist as spirits. And most of the time, they are invisible to us in this physical realm. But, every once in a while, they do take on a physical form in order to make their presence known. We see examples of that throughout the Bible… where angels take on one form or another in order to interact with humanity. When they do appear, every example we have in the Bible has them appearing as young men. I personally don’t think they have a gender, and Billy Graham writes about that in the book he ended up writing on Angels. Which kind of blows a hole in the image many of us have of angels being female. But angels are essentially invisible spirit beings.

And this is interesting… the Bible teaches that sometimes an angel would appear to someone… they would take on a physical form… and that person would have no idea that they were talking to an angel.

Hebrews 13:2 (NLT)
Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!

As far as I know, I’ve never encountered an angel. But according to this verse, maybe I have and I just don’t know it. People don’t always recognize an angel when they see one. And other times, when an angel would appear to someone, that person would be struck with a sense of terror. Like when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her she would give birth to Jesus, he had to start by saying… “Calm down, don’t be afraid Mary.” And then nine months later, when the angel appeared to the shepherds, they again had to tell the shepherds, “Peace, dudes. Chill out. Don’t be afraid. We mean you no harm… we’re bringing good news.”

Sometimes angels show themselves, like they did there. Usually, they are invisible spiritual beings, but sometimes they do appear. And remember this… when they do appear…


C.    Angels may not be what they appear

Remember that there are fallen angels, or at least angelic impersonators, who are out there trying to deceive you.

2 Corinthians 11:14-15 (NLT)
Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.

On September 21 in the year 1823, on a hillside outside of Manchester, New York, what seemed to be an angel appeared to a young man named Joe. The angel identified himself as Moroni, and over the course of the next six years appeared to him and to others on several occasions. What this angel revealed to Joe… Joseph… Joseph Smith became the foundation for what is now The Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

That “church” is really an entirely different religion that teaches a distortion of what the Bible teaches and really confuses the identity of Jesus. Do I believe an angel really appeared to Joseph Smith on that hillside? I don’t really know, but I think he did see something. I just don’t think he saw what he thinks he saw. He thought he saw an angel; I think he saw an imposter.

Angels are not always what they appear. There are spiritual beings whose aim is to deceive you and lead you away from God. Not every spiritual being is your friend. That’s why I really can’t warn you enough to avoid dabbling into the occult and playing around with spiritual forces. Because when you do, you’re opening yourself up to the wrong spirits.

1 John 4:1 (NLT)
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…

Test the Spirits. Now, I do not expect that many if any of us here this morning will actually see an angel during our lifetime. I don’t expect that you’ll go home today and there will be an angel in your living room waiting to give you a message from God. Could happen, but I don’t think it’s likely. So why is this even relevant? Because I do think we are all affected by spiritual beings, angelic or otherwise, each and every day. I think they influence what we do and what we believe, I think they are impacting the way we think… I think they use subtle techniques to draw us toward God or, if they’re evil spirits, to draw us away. I think they have the ability to orchestrate the events of our lives, to persuade us through the words of others… I think good spirits work in very positive ways bringing us closer to God, and evil spirits work in destructive ways luring us away from God. So how to do you test them to know if they’re good or evil? Here are two questions you can ask…

•    Who is being exalted?

True angels… good spirits… seek to exalt Jesus Christ; evil spirits seek to exalt themselves, you, other people, material possessions… anything but Jesus.

Revelation 19:10 (NLT)
Then I fell down at [the angel’s] feet to worship him, but he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God.”

•    Is it consistent with God’s Word?

Any spirit, any person, any thought that you have that is consistent with what God has already revealed through the Bible is good. Anything that is inconsistent, not so good.

Galatians 1:8 (NLT)
Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.


D.    Angels are servants of God

They do what God wants them to do. Even the word “angel” literally means “messenger.” So one of their primary functions is to deliver messages from God. And you see several examples of this in the Bible, including a couple we’ve already mentioned when the angel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus and when the angel delivered the message to the shepherds that Jesus had been born.

So angels serve God as His messengers, and they also serve Him by caring for His people. That means you and me. Now, remember, they serve God and do His bidding. They don’t do our bidding. But it would seem that God often assigns them to serve us and to protect us. We looked at this verse earlier…

Hebrews 1:14 (NLT)
Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.

Note that they are sent by God, but they are sent to care for us. Which raises the question: do people really have guardian angels? This is a pretty popular concept and a lot of people believe they do have a guardian angel. I don’t really know if God specifically assigns particular angel to a particular person, but there are certainly passages in the Bible that indicate that at least sometimes there are angels watching out for us. A couple examples:

Psalm 91:11-12 (NLT)
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.

Matthew 18:10 (NLT)
“Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.”

So I have no problem accepting that God sends angels to protect and guard His people. Whether it’s always the same angel, thus a Guardian Angel, I don’t know.


E.    Angels battle for God, protecting God’s people

Let me share with you one of my favourite stories from the Bible. It’s found in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings chapter 6. Elisha is a prophet of God, and the King of Aram who is trying to conquer the nation of Israel learns that Elisha is giving away his gameplan to the king of Israel. So the king of Aram sends his army to the city of Dothan where Elisha was staying in order to capture Elisha.

So this army set out, and they arrived at the city during night and surrounded the city. So early the next morning, Elisha’s servant got up and went outside… maybe he was going for a jog, maybe he was just getting the morning paper… and I picture him stepping outside, still half asleep, doing a little stretch, looking up… and there in front of him he saw an army of soldiers, horses, and chariots.

So he hightails it back inside to warn Elisha, and this servant is absolutely terrified.

Well, Elisha tells the servant to relax… they aren’t in any real danger… there are more on their side than on the side of Arameans. Well, this servant is astounded at this response. “I don’t think you understand… there’s an entire army outside waiting for you. In here, it’s just you and me. And I’ve got to tell you, I’m not so sure about the ‘me’ right now.”

Elisha kind of lets out a sigh… “Okay, I’ll show you.” And he prays that God will open this servant’s eyes. The servant’s a little confused because he thought his eyes were already open. But suddenly he sees it…

2 Kings 6:17 (NLT)
The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.

And that spiritual army protected Elisha and in fact delivered the entire Aramean army into Elisha’s hands. That’s a tremendous story of how God sends His angels to protect His people.

And then there’s another story in 2 Kings 19 where King Hezekiah cries out for God to help him when the Assyrian army attacks.

2 Kings 19:35 (NLT)
That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers.

That’s how powerful these angels are. One angel took care of an army of 185,000. They are incredibly powerful beings that serve God, battling for Him and protecting His people.

It’s almost like there’s this parallel dimension, and right in this room this morning in that parallel dimension we’re surrounded by these incredibly powerful angels. And they’re here to protect us against Satanic attacks, they’re here to guide us, they’re battling on our behalf, they’re ministering to us and serving us in various ways…

It really gives you a different perspective on reality when you get this sense that they are there… even when you can’t see them. And you realize that like that young servant of Elisha, if God opened your eyes in such a way that you could see into that spiritual realm, you would see them.

It’s funny the things we get preoccupied with… the things we worry about… that we wouldn’t worry at all about if we had this in perspective. There is a host of angelic beings, all around us, under the command of God Himself, and they are there battling for us.

So when you’re in trouble, when you’re facing difficulty, when everything seems to be falling apart and all seems lost… cry out to God for help. Don’t cry out to the angels, because they don’t serve you. You help doesn’t come from the angels… it comes from God. So cry out to God, and He can send His angels to help.


Sources:
The Amazing Truth About Angels by David Dykes
Exploring the Supernatural: Touched by the Angels by Andrew Chan
A Biblical Description of Angels by Jerry Shirley
Angels Among Us by Jerry Shirley
Angels by Ken Gilmore



 

 

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