I Believe In Angels
I want to ask you plainly: If some unexpected circumstance, experience, or event were to intrude upon your life tomorrow, would you be ready to handle it?
I recently visited with a couple to whom I feel very close. The husband was facing serious, unexpected surgery. The future seemed fraught with uncertainty. In the course of the conversation there came this remarkable statement: “Say a prayer for us, please, but be assured that we are ready to face whatever is ahead.” Could you say that if you suddenly had to face that kind of circumstance? Would you be ready for it?
I remember the night I was at the church for a meeting. A lady in trouble called the house looking for help. She was contemplating suicide. For forty-five minutes, my wife, Trisha, tried desperately to learn who she was and to offer help. Nothing worked. The lady said that her life had fallen apart. Those whom she loved had forsaken her. She had lost her job and could find no work. She couldn’t face it all, but she couldn’t share it either. Trisha could only pray for her and entrust her to the Lord. Well, if you suddenly had to face what that woman was facing, what would you do? Would you be able to stand up under the onslaught?
Of course, there is a real sense in which we cannot answer the question. The plain fact is that we can never be certain how we will react to any given circumstance until we actually confront that circumstance. But I can offer us today something of which we can be absolutely certain. Tucked away in one small slice of the Christmas story are three great principles which will make us ready to face the unexpected in life. Here are these principles:
The first principle is this: Remember that God always prepares us for the unexpected in life.
Of all the glorious things we can say about our God, one of the most glorious is that He is a God of preparation. You see it in Scripture. God readied David for the loneliness of kingship by ministering to him in the solitary pastures around Bethlehem. God fanned to white, hot heat the prophecy of Amos as He prepared Amos in the burning desert around Tekoa. God touched the tongue of Isaiah so that he could speak as no other prophet spoke, but God had already prepared Isaiah for such speaking by leading him through the finest academic institutions of his day. God prepared Paul to give his life away for Jesus Christ by making him a party to the heroic, sacrificial death of Stephen. God is always at work preparing us for that which is to become a part of our experience.
I can think of no exception to that rule, but surely the loveliest illustration of that truth is found in the way God prepared Mary prior to the birth of Jesus. She was just a simple, first-century, Jewish girl who grew up in Nazareth, a cultural backwater if there ever was one. Today in Nazareth, there stands a huge, ornate, grandiose church built to honor Mary. But how altogether different that is from the sweet simplicity of the Jewish maiden of long ago.
Yet I ask you to notice that before God intervened in her life in a series of most unexpected circumstances, He prepared Mary for the task which was to be hers. He sent an angel directly into her experience—a preparing angel. And I want to dare to suggest to you that God always sends His angels to prepare us for what we shall face in life—angels unseen, angels unawares, yes, but always angels of preparation.
The world record for the high jump was held for a number of years by a man named Walter Davis. At age 8, Walter Davis had contracted polio. It settled in his legs and disabled him. His life became all crutches and braces and endless therapy. Somewhere in the midst of it all, though, he got the idea that he would like to be a high jumper. Imagine that, a young man recuperating from polio with such a dream. But he had a calm confidence in God which never waivered through the years as he pursued that dream. Along the way, he met a girl named Margaret. She loved Jesus, too. The two of them were married. It made quite a team: Jesus and Margaret and Walter. Of course, that’s always true when two people take Christ into their marriage. The day came in 1941 when Walter Davis was competing for the world championship in the high jump. The bar was set at 6’11”. No one had ever jumped even close to that height before. Walter tried once and failed. Twice and failed. As he prepared himself for his last attempt, he looked down at his legs—legs once shriveled and useless, but now, by grace and commitment, strong and stout—and he said: “God has been with us through it all. He has prepared us for this moment. Now we are going to do it.” And he did. You see, he had spent time with the angels who make us ready, so he was ready for any challenge which confronted him. That’s the first principle to remember. God always prepares us. He prepared Mary. He will prepare us as well.
The second principle flows out of the first: Remember to be prepared to be prepared for the unexpected in life.
In other words, we have to be ready to receive the angels God sends. There are some people who reject the ministering angels when they come. You remember Jacob on the banks of the river Jabbok? He was gripped by a guilty conscience at having cheated his brother, Esau years earlier, and he would soon have to face his brother. He wasn’t ready for that. That night, someone grabbed him. Jacob resisted and the two of them fought through the night. Only in the light of the dawn did Jacob fully realize that he had been wrestling with none other than an angel of God. He then begged the angel to bless him. The angel then gave Jacob a new name and a new life. Jacob wound up calling that place “Peniel,” which means, “Here I saw God face to face.”
It’s interesting to note that Mary made the same mistake Jacob made. The Bible says that when the angel came to her, she was troubled, and she at first resisted the angel’s overtures. God had sent his angel of preparation, but like Jacob, at first, Mary was not prepared to be prepared. And many of us make the same mistake. We resist the circumstances in life in which God’s ministering angels are trying to bring us into face-to-face contact with the Lord. We make the mistake of thinking some things to be our enemies, when in fact they are coming to bring us God’s blessings.
About two years ago now, a man and his wife were quarreling. It was early on a Sunday morning. Things had been bad for them for quite some time. That morning it all degenerated into a shouting match. He was losing control. Something told him to walk away before it got out of hand. He went into the next room, switched on the television set, and slumped down into a chair, raging inside. The voice on the television said: “Come before winter. There are some things which will never be done unless they are done before winter. There are tides of opportunity running now at the flood, but a year from now will be at the ebb. There are voices speaking today which a year from today will be silent. Come before winter or never.” He listened to the rest of what the voice on television said. It was a sermon. But he listened anyway. His wife soon joined him. When the sermon was finished, she saw tears rolling down his face. Then for the first time in many years, they prayed together. After that, they went over to the bookshelf and got the Bible—it was dusty from disuse—and they began to read the passage upon which that sermon was based. They began to yield themselves to the ministering angels of God. I know that’s true because what they listened to on television that day originated from this church, and they called to tell me the story. The journey since then has not been easy, but they are going to make it. They are going to make it because they know themselves to be living in the presence of the angels.
That leads to the third principle: Remember to expect the angels who will prepare you for the unexpected.
How many times in my own life I have harkened back to the glorious truth contained in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You remember them—the three young men who believed that God could deliver them from King Nebuchadnezzar. They were bound hand and foot and brought to the fiery furnace. Now while they could not be sure that God would spare them from the flames, they were dead certain that God would be with them in the midst of the flames or anywhere else. They expected God’s angel to meet them there. And sure enough, the king looked into the fiery furnace and he saw not three, but four figures in the fire. They expected the angel, and the angel was there.
I know. You are thinking to yourself that I have lost touch with reality with all of this talk about angels. Well, I have to tell you that I have spent time reading about the subject. I’ve read what Augustine and Aquines and Calvin and Luther have to say about angels. I’ve read modern treatments from Jacque Maretain to Billy Graham. Karl Barth, the great twentieth century theologian, has 160 pages devoted to the subject of angels. And I would remind you that no less a modern intellect than Mortimer J. Adler has recently written a book called The Angels and Us, written, he says, “to defend the religious belief in angels against those who dismiss such belief as unreasonable, preposterous, or absurd.” So who is out of touch with reality? If I am, then I am not alone. I am in good company.
Oh yes, I know. It is difficult for us to understand about angels. We can’t see them. We can’t analyze them. We can’t comprehend them. But that should not keep us from not believing in them. Let me express it this way. If I were to place a television set before you here and extend the antenna and turn it on, you would see and hear what is being telecast. That means that this room right now is filled with television signals waiting to be picked up by a television set. We can’t hear those signals or see them or taste them or touch them or smell them or even understand them. But still we believe that those signals are all around us all of the time. So it is with angels.
Alan Walker tells of ministering in the outback of Australia. He was to serve communion in a small church in the middle of nowhere. Only two people showed up. He was rather depressed that he traveled a thousand miles from anywhere only to find two Christians in his congregation. He thought to himself: “Well, I’ll get through the sacrament as quickly as I can and move on to better opportunities for ministry.” As he was going through the motions of reading the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, suddenly he caught his breath. For he read the line which says: “With angels and archangels and all the heavenly host, we adore thee.” He stopped and then he prayed out loud: “O God, forgive me. I forgot the company I am in.”
I haven’t lost touch with reality, my friends. I say to you very simply, very seriously, very sincerely that I believe in angels. I believe that they are the messengers of God. They are always at work, weaving into the course of our daily experience the things we need in order to face up to all that life sets before us. I’ve never seen an angel. And I don’t hope to, not in this life. For this Bible tells me—and I believe it because it has never, ever failed me—this Bible tells me that you and I are compassed about by angels. This Bible tells me that even at this very moment, they hover unseen in our presence, working to bring God’s blessing and God’s power into our lives.
Tarry here, angels. Don’t leave. Stay a while. Let me plead a moment more with anyone listening who does not feel prepared to meet anything and everything life sets before them. Don’t fly away, angels. Not yet. Give me just one moment more to ask anyone who has not done so to offer himself or herself—heart, mind, body, soul—to the God who prepares us. Don’t spread your wings just yet, angels. Remember that Jesus said that “there is joy among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Please, don’t fly away just yet. Just one moment more. Someone here may decide. And then, angels, then you may fly off heavenward, crying out in joy: “Good news! Good news! We’ve found one more who by grace has come to Jesus Christ!”