Preparing For Peace
I believe in angels.
Don’t think for a moment that I must have lost touch with reality to dare to stand up here in the enlightened, sophisticated age in which we are living and make what some would regard as an absurd statement. But I haven’t lost touch with reality and the statement is not absurd. I want to say it again—very simply, very seriously, very sincerely—that I believe in angels. I believe that they are always at work weaving into the course of our daily experience the things we need to face up to, the challenges and difficulties life sets before us. I believe that they bring the light of Jesus Christ into the dark times of our experience, giving us a peace of mind and heart which enables us to live victoriously.
I know. You’re still thinking that I have lost touch with reality with all this talk about angels. Well, I have to tell you that I have spent considerable time researching the subject. I have read what Augustine and Aquinas and Calvin and Luther had to say about angels. I have read modern treatments from Jacques Maritain to Billy Graham to David Jeremiah. Karl Barth, widely regarded as one of this century’s greatest theologians, has 160 pages devoted to the subject of angels. No less a modern intellect than Mortimer J. Adler wrote a book entitled The Angels and Us, written as 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 some very good company.
Of course, 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 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 the air around us is filled with television signals waiting to be picked up by a television set. We can’t hear those signals or see them or touch 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.
To be sure, it is not easy to think about them because we do know so little about them. The Bible simply tells us that they exist. The Bible doesn’t even tell us what they look like. Artists through the ages have tended to portray them either as regal figures bedecked with large wings, white robes and gleaming halos or as chubby little cherubs with bright eyes, beaming faces and tiny golden wings. But no such descriptions are to be found anywhere on the pages of Scripture.
And it’s not easy for us to think about angels because we don’t know quite what to make of them. Do we? Take the Christmas story, for example. Of all the participants in the Christmas story, the angels are the ones most frequently ignored or forgotten. Oh to be sure, whenever we portray the Nativity scene, whether in painting or in sculpture or in real life, the angels are always there, but it’s almost as if they were placed there as an afterthought. They hover about but no one seems to know what to do with them. Yet, I ask you to remember a pertinent fact. The role of the angels in the first Christmas, while it is limited to just a few verses in Scripture, had a powerful impact on what happened that first Christmas, and furthermore, has a profound message for us on this Christmas. That is why I am so grateful that these magnificent banners of angels will grace this Sanctuary all through the Christmas season. They are a vivid and glorious reminder of the role the angel played in giving to Mary and Joseph the peace of mind and heart they needed in order to face the difficult, unexpected, painful challenges which surrounded the birth of Jesus. Therefore, every time you glance at those banners, remember the words from the story: “And there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace … peace to those with whom God is pleased.’” I believe in angels and I would ask you now to spend a few moments with me thinking about the angels.
Remember first that the Christmas story declares that God sends His angels to us to prepare us with His peace to face whatever life sets before us.
Of all the glorious things we can say about our God, surely one of the most glorious is that He is a preparing God. That’s the way God works. You see it clearly in the Bible. God used first the intense pressure of the royal court in Egypt and then later on the somber stillness of the Midian Desert in order to prepare Moses for forty years of liberating and leading the people of Israel. God readied David for the loneliness of kingship by ministering to him in the silent pastures around the little town of Bethlehem. God fanned a white-hot heat, the searing prophecy of Amos, as He prepared Amos out in the burning desert around a little place called Tekoa. God touched the tongue of Isaiah and enabled Isaiah to speak as no prophet had ever spoken before, but God was preparing Isaiah for that kind of speaking all along by leading him through the finest educational institutions of his day. God prepared Paul to give his life away for Jesus Christ by making Paul a party to the heroic, sacrificial death of Stephen. And by the way, the Bible very specifically notes that at the death of Stephen, when he was being stoned to death, at the moment of death (and Paul would have seen this) the Bible says: “The face of Stephen became like the face of an angel.”
God is always preparing us for what we have to face in life. I know of no exception to the rules. And surely the most lovely illustration of them all is the preparation God delivered to Mary. Mary, a simple, first-century Jewish maiden, no more than sixteen or perhaps seventeen years of age, reared in Nazareth—a cultural backwater if ever there was one. Today in Nazareth there stands a huge, ornate, grandiose cathedral built to honor Mary. It is a splendid spectacular structure and it is so well worth seeing. But how altogether different it is from the sweet simplicity of this young Jewish maiden. And yet God chose this very ordinary young woman to accomplish the most extraordinary task the world has ever seen. But here’s the point: Before God gave to Mary that task God prepared her for it. God sent into her experience an angel and the angel said to Mary: “The Lord will be with you. Do not be afraid, Mary. For you have found favor with God.” That’s the way God always works. God always sends His angels into our experience in order to prepare us for the challenges and the difficulties we shall have to face in life. Angels unseen, yes. Angels unawares, yes. But always angels of preparation.
For a good number of years, the world’s record in the high jump was held by a man named Walter Davis. What you need to know about Walter Davis is that at age eight he was stricken with polio. The disease settled in his legs and completely disabled him. His life became all braces and crutches and unending agonizing therapy. But somewhere along the way, Walter Davis got the idea that he wanted to be a high jumper. Imagine that! A young man whose legs had been rendered virtually useless—dreaming of being a high jumper. But you see, Walter Davis had something else going for him. He had a confidence that God was with him in his life and that confidence never wavered through all of the years that followed. Along the way he met a young woman. Her name was Margaret. She loved Jesus just like Walter did. The two of them fell in love and got married. They made a great team, actually—Jesus and Margaret and Walter. That’s always true whenever a man and a woman invite Christ into their marriage. There came a day in 1941 when Walter Davis was competing in the world championship for the high jump. The standard was set at six feet eleven inches. At that point in time, no one had ever jumped anywhere close to that height. Walter Davis’ first attempt failed. The second attempt, same result. As he readied himself for the third attempt, suddenly he looked down at his legs—legs once shrunken and shriveled, but now by grace and commitment, stout and strong, and he actually audibly spoke to his legs. He said: “God has been with us through it all. God has prepared us for this moment. Now we shall do it.” And with one step he had reached full stride running, headed toward the standard. He planted his foot to the ground, propelled himself upward and soared over the bar and set a new world’s record that lasted for more than twenty years. Walter Davis had spent time with the ministering angels of God, and that had readied him, prepared him to face any challenge he would confront in life. That’s the way our God works. God prepared Mary. God prepared Walter Davis. And God will prepare us. That’s the work that the angels do.
But also remember that the Christmas story declares that we must be prepared to be prepared by the angels God sends.
In other words, we have to be ready to receive the angels God sends to make us ready. Some people resist, reject or ignore the ministering angels God sends into their experience. Do you remember Jacob in the Old Testament at the banks of the River Jabbok? There Jacob was tormented by a guilty conscience because he had cheated his brother, Esau. He knew that he was going to have to face his brother soon. He wasn’t prepared. There was no sense of peace within him at all. And it was that night, out of the darkness, that someone grabbed him. Jacob resisted and the two of them fought all through the long hours of the night. Finally, Jacob was beaten by this opponent in the dark. And it wasn’t until the first light of the dawn that Jacob discovered that the one with whom he had been wrestling was none other than an angel of God. And Jacob then asked the angel to bless him. And the angel gave to Jacob a new name and a new life and from that point on Jacob always called that place on the banks of the River Jabbok “Peniel,” which means “Here I met God face to face.”
Interestingly enough, Mary at first made the same mistake Jacob made. When you read the story in the Gospel of Luke it’s quite clear that when at first the angel came to Mary, it says that she was troubled and she resisted the angel’s overture. Mary, you see, at first wasn’t prepared to be prepared. And so many of us make the same mistake. We resist or we ignore those situations or circumstances in life where God’s angels are engaged in trying to give to us the things we need to face up to what life sets before us. So many times in life—I see it in other people’s lives and in my own life—we look at things and we think that those things are enemies out to get us when, in fact, so many times those things are coming to bring to us God’s blessing. But the only way we ever know it is to be prepared always to be prepared.
Several years back up in Atlanta, a man and his wife were quarreling. It was in the middle of the night. Things had not been going well for them for some time, but this particular crisis was triggered by the fact that the man’s mother had died a short while before, and he was inconsolable in his grief at losing her. His emotions got the best of him and their circumstances quickly degenerated into a shouting match. He was losing control and something told him that he needed to walk away from that situation before it got completely out of hand. And so he turned and he walked out of the room, left his wife, went into the next room, switched on the television set, flopped into a chair, raging inside and began surfing his way through the channels. As the channels were flipping on the screen, suddenly a voice caught his ear. He froze the channel. The voice he heard was the voice of a preacher, and the preacher was actually at that moment speaking about the death of his own mother just three days before. The man was astonished at the coincidence and so he kept listening. It was a sermon but he listened anyway. And in a few moments his wife joined him there. And when the sermon had ended his wife turned and looked at him and saw tears in his eyes. For the first time in a long, long time they prayed together. And then they went and found their Bible. It had become dusty with disuse, and they sat down and began to read together the passage on which the particular sermon was based. They yielded themselves to the ministering angels of God. I know that’s true because, you see, what they saw on television that night originated from this church and the voice they heard was mine. But the Word they heard that night was God’s—and they called to tell me about it. And thus began one of my most cherished friendships. The two of them have gone on to build a strong marriage. The man is not only a great man, he is a great Christian man. Many of you here would know his name and his face. Just as many know his name and his face all over the world. He is so visible because he is the lead sports anchor for the Cable News Network which is telecast all over the world. His name is Fred Hickman. Fred and Judy Hickman have become extraordinary Christians because they know themselves every day to be living in the presence of the angels. We’ve got to be ready to receive the angels God sends to make us ready. We’ve got to be prepared because God’s angels are His messengers to you.
It’s funny, isn’t it? I end up exactly where I started.
I believe in angels. I believe that they are the messengers of God. I believe that they are always working, weaving into our experience the things God knows we need in order to face the difficulties and the challenges of life. I have never seen an angel; don’t hope to; not in this life. But I do believe in angels. The Bible tells me—and the Bible has never, ever failed me—the Bible tells me that you and I are encompassed about by angels. The Bible tells me and I believe it. The angels of God are here right now, working to bring the light of Jesus Christ, His peace and His power into your life and mine.
It happened to Mary.
It happened to Jacob.
It happened to Paul.
It happened to Walter Davis.
It happened to Fred and Judy Hickman.
It’s happened to me.
It can happen to you.
And if it does happen to you, then you will know what I mean when I say …
I believe in angels!