December 18, 2019
In our Advent series on Angels we have learned that angels are powerful spirits, who serve God. They protect us from bodily and spiritual harm; fighting demons and humans alike. Scripture calls them mighty ones. On occasion angels brandish fiery swords and ride in chariots of fire. A single angel killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. Angels fought alongside the army of Israel and drove out their enemies before them. God certainly sent his angels to guide his people in all their ways so that their feet would not strike rocks. Angels are warriors. God calls his angels the hosts, that is the armies of heaven. Yet, Scripture does not give angels the name, warriors, or any such derivative.
We learned last week that angels teach us to worship, as we heard of them praising God before his throne in Isaiah 6, and filling the heavens with music as they announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. And indeed, angels are constantly worshiping and praising God. Yet, Scripture does not call angels priests or cantors.
Scripture calls these heavenly warriors and worshipers of God, angels. The word angel comes from the Greek word for messenger. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Both in the Old and in the New Testament angels are chiefly identified by the title, messenger. This is because, the chief and most honorable office these heavenly beings hold is that of messenger. The name angel is a title of honor, because these heavenly beings have the privilege of delivering God’s words to his people.
Now, why is the title messenger more honorable than the title warrior or protector? Is it not much more marvelous that angels defeat all the enemies of God and of his people? That they fend off the devil and his minions; that they defeated the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the Syrians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians? That they watch over the beds of our children and keep our cars on the road on icy winter nights? Is it not more marvelous that they guide the hands of heart surgeons and keep plagues from ravaging our land? Why is the title messenger more honorable than priest or cantor? Is it not much more honorable that angels stand before God Almighty and behold his face? That they sing words of praise to him that glorify his name and shake the heavens? What could be more marvelous than the heavenly worship of God?
No, the name God gives them is angels, because there is no more honorable name than Messenger of God, because there is no greater treasure God can give us than his words.
Our church is called Trinity Lutheran Church, but our official name is actually Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. That word, Evangelical comes from the Greek word for Gospel, ευαγγελιον (euangelion). If you listen closely, you might be able to hear the word angel in there: Eu-angel-on. Eu is the Greek word for good. Αγγελια (angelia) is the Greek words for message. So, euangelion means Good Message, or Good News. In its name our church confesses to be the church of the Gospel, that is, the Good News.
Angels deliver messages from God. The greatest message an angel can deliver is the Good Message, the Gospel, the euangelion. In Luke chapter 2, the angel appears before the shepherds in the fields and says, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news [ευαγγελιζομαι (euangelizomai)] of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel, this messenger of God, declared the Gospel, that is the Good Message from God that Jesus, the Savior was born! And with those words the angel did something more profound, more important, more powerful than when the angels plagued Egypt, conquered Canaan, closed the mouths of lions, and protected Israel throughout their history. With those words, the angel brought eternal salvation to those shepherds!
None of us were there when the angel Gabriel declared the good message to Mary that she would bear the Son of God, who would reign forever over his father David’s throne. And none of us witnessed the angel roll back the stone of Jesus’ tomb with an earthquake, paralyzing the soldiers with fear, nor did we hear him speak to the Marys concerning Jesus’ resurrection. But, we have heard these words from Scripture. And these words, this good message from the angels is just as good and powerful to us now as it was to those who heard it from the mouth of these heavenly beings.
St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 1, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, the [ευαγγελιον (euangelion)] of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.” The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. This is because, we are not saved by our good works or anything we do. We are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. That is, we are saved through believing the good message of Jesus Christ. Jesus saves by coming into the hearts of his people through words, through a message from God that he is not angry with us, but has reconciled himself to us through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Scripture says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-15a, 17). It was truly marvelous that angels conquered the enemies of Israel with great signs and wonders and that they still protect us today from all harm and danger. It is truly beautiful that the angels worship God in heaven with reverence and awe. Yet, these things do not give to us eternal salvation. Eternal salvation comes only through faith in the good message of Jesus Christ, as Scripture says, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)
The title angel is the most honorable title God could give these heavenly creatures, because there is no greater majesty or power of God than that displayed in his good message to his people. In this good message, God reveals his Love for us!
There are a few instances when the Bible uses the word angel to refer to beings that are not actual angels. Usually this is a title of honor. One, is in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, where Jesus sends letters to the angel of the church in seven different cities. This is probably a reference to their pastors, who are charged by God to deliver the message of God from holy Scripture.
The other occasion is from the Old Testament with the term, The Angel of the LORD. In the Old Testament when it says The Angel of the LORD, instead of, an angel of the LORD, it usually refers to Christ, the Second Person in the Holy Trinity. To be clear, God is not an angel. He is a Spirit, who transcends all angels. And God did not make angels in his own image, but he made man in his own image. And God did not become an angel, but rather, he became a human being, Jesus Christ. Yet, Scripture sometimes calls Christ the Angel of the LORD. This is because the Son of God is the eternal Word of God. Our God speaks to us! This again is why it is such an honorable title given to the angels! They speak to us the powerful word of God! A word that is powerful enough to create light and the entire universe! A word that is powerful enough to create faith in our hearts and to forgive all our sins!
I’ve never seen an angel. And none of us has had an angel speak to us directly. Yet, we have heard the message of these messengers: the good message from God himself. This is the message of Jesus Christ. This is the message that saves.
This Christmas, we are celebrating the Good Message of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, so that he might save us sinners by dying on the cross for our sins. This Good Message was first delivered by God’s messengers from heaven. And we still have the honor to hear this message today. And for that reason, we are glad to sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Amen.