Angels In The Desert

ANGELS IN THE DESERT

 

MARK 1:12-13

 

ACTS 12:1-19

angels in the desert picture 

I’ve heard of Angels in the outfield (90’s reference), but here we find Angels in the desert. I am sure we have all heard of the show touched by an Angel, but what does that really mean, to be ministered to by an Angel? We see the Greek word for minister here is where we get our word for Deacon. The word means to serve or minster to someone on behalf of someone else. For both the church deacon and the angelic deacon the one we minister on behalf of is the One True Triune God. Angels as Hebrews 1:14 declares are ministering spirits ,”sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” And as Hebrews 13:1-2 declares we should be careful to show hospitality to strangers for by doing so, “some have entertained angels unaware.”

I am not sure you have ever had a pastor preach a sermon explicitly on Angels. Since we are in the Presbyterian tradition, which in my experience generally focuses more on theology or ethical teaching than angels, I would guess you haven’t. I actually have never preached a serious sermon on Angels. I like many seminarians have often commented that going to seminary is like counting the number of Angels on the head of a pin. By this I mean in seminary we often get into debates that are abstract and unrelated to life in the church or people’s lives in general. The unfortunate problem about using this analogy is that it assumes that the subject of the analogy, that being Angels, are irrelevant to the life of Christians today.

To quote Billy Graham in his book, “Angels: God’s Secret Agents;” “ why write a book on angels? Isn’t talking about angels merely adding to the speculation about supernatural phenomena? What possible value is there in such a discussion? Didn’t the fascination with angels vanish with the Middle Ages? “ Graham goes on to say;

“Because all the powers of the evil world system seem to be preying on the minds of people already disturbed and frustrated in our generation, I believe the time has come to focus on the positives of the Christian faith. John the Apostle said, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). Satan is indeed capable of doing supernatural things-but he acts only by the permissive will of God; he is on a leash. It is God who is all powerful. It is God who is omnipotent. God has provided Christians with both offensive and defensive weapons. We are not to be fearful; we are not to be distressed; we are not to be deceived; nor are we to be intimidated.” Graham goes on to say;

“[t]he Bible testifies that God has provided assistance for us in our spiritual conflicts. We are not alone in this world! The Bible teaches us that God’s Holy Spirit has been given to empower us and guide us. In addition, the Bible- in nearly three hundred different places- also teaches that God has countless angels at His command. Furthermore, God has commissioned these angels to aid His children in their struggles against Satan. The Bible does not give as much information about them as we might like, but what it does say should be a source of comfort and strength for us in every circumstance.” (Graham, 13-14)

The main point of Angels, throughout the scriptures, is not necessarily to fix all our problems, but to be God’s messengers and to help the saints accomplish God’s purposes, the chief of which is to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Jack Deere, author of “Surprised By the Voice of God,” tells the story of a member of a church he used to work at who claimed to have been delivered by an Angel twice. According to Deere the woman had never told the story before for fear of being thought crazy. According to Deere;

“She had been driving on the interstate in our city when she became so ill she was afraid she might pass out and lose control of the car. Then she saw a handsome young man dressed in black leather jacket hitchhiking along the side of the road. She pulled off the road and picked him up. “Please sir, “ she said, “I’m so sick. If you could just drive me to the west side of town where my doctor’s office is located, I’ll make sure you get a ride to anywhere you want to go.” The young man agreed, and drove her to her doctor’s office. He helped her out of the car and into the doctor’s office, where a nurse took her immediately into one of the examination rooms. A few minutes later the woman realized she had forgotten to thank the young man and make arrangements for him to get another ride. She walked back into the lobby and asked the receptionist where the young man had gone. The receptionist said, “What young man?” “The young man who practically carried me in here,” the lady answered. “No one carried you in here! You came in here by yourself and put your keys here on the counter.” The lady thought she was truly sick! She imagined the whole thing had been a hallucination.

A year or so later, she was shopping at one of the large malls during the Christmas season and came out late at night, just as the stores were closing. She had parked her car in a under ground garage adjacent to a stone wall in the very last place in the far corner. Directly in front of her car and along the passenger side was a cement wall. The space next to the driver’s side was empty.

When she entered the garage and began to walk toward her car, the garage was empty. Then she heard footsteps coming out of the dark on her right. She glanced in that direction and saw a man walking toward her. She quickened her pace. The man quickened his pace. She began to run, and so did her attacker. As she ran, she fumbled in her purse for her keys. When she got to the door of her car, she realized she wouldn’t have time to open the door before the man reached her. She turned to face her attacker. As she did, she saw him stop about thirty feet from her with a terrified look in his eyes. Abruptly, he turned around and ran out the garage. The woman turned back to her car, and there standing between the cement wall and her car was the young man she had picked up a year or so before on the freeway when she was sick. He was dressed in the same black leather jacket and was smiling at her. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure her attacker had gone, and when she turned back to the young man to thank him, he had vanished. She walked all around the car, searching for him. There was no door in the cement wall. He was not under the car. He had simply vanished. Then she knew. She had been visited by an angel. Once again, he saved her life.” (Deere, 138).

This is an amazing story, as is our jailbreak story from the book of Acts today. I have no doubt that either happened. But there is a problem that struck my mind that is evident in the Acts story and lies behind this modern woman’s story. The problem we see in Acts 12 is that it appears that God allows Herod to execute James the brother of John, a leader of the church, but Peter gets a prison break. And the two stories are right next to each other. And the obvious problem with Pastor’s Deere’s story is that there are many, many, women, who in similar situations don’t get an Angel. Indeed, there are a whole host of tragedies in the world, both big and small, that in the minds of most rational people would seem to warrant divine intervention, and yet receive none. The question, in simple language, is what gives God? If you are not going to help everybody then you might as well help nobody we might be tempted to say to God. That option, of God doing nothing all the time, may make God indifferent or cruel, but at least it makes God fair.

Billy Graham had a similar question when he wrote his book on Angels and this is his response. “Many experience in both the Old and New Testaments grew out of the imprisonment of God’s saints, calling either for God to deliver directly, or to intervene through angels acting in his name. Many today who are captive in the chains of depression can take courage to believe in the prospect of deliverance. God has no favorites and declares that angels will minister to all the heirs of faith. If we, the sons of God, would only realize how close His ministering angels are, what calm assurance we could have in facing the cataclysms of life. While we do not place our faith directly in angels, we should place it in God who rules the angels; then we can have peace.” Graham goes on to mention Hebrews 11, a list of saints, many of which were delivered from persecution by God. But Graham tells us that in verse 35 the tempo of the chapter changes, “with the opening words, “and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance.” To quote Graham, “Those now mentioned were of equal faith and courage: they had endured the trial of cruel mockings and scourgings. They suffered bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were slain with the sword. They wandered about in goatskins being destitute, afflicted and tormented. Time after time they must have called on God to send His Mighty angels to help. No delivering angel came. They suffered and endured almost as though there were no God.

Why? We find a clue when our Lord faced Calvary as He prayed, “if it be possible let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39); but he added, “nevertheless not my will but thine, be done.” To sum up Graham, the ministry of angels does not end with death, and those who die in faith and by faith have a greater reward awaiting them (Graham, 96).

The words of 1 Johnn 4:4 are true. “Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.” As Jesus said in John as he faced the trial of the cross, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” You have called me here to do what may seem impossible in the eyes of the world, and perhaps in the eyes of the church. In a world full of mega churches eating up what believers are left, and a greater majority of people identifying as “spiritual but not religious” you have called me to bring new life into this church. But I can’t do that on my own. And perhaps we can’t do that under our own strength. I know how many of you have served faithfully and feel like you can not serve any more. But standing against mortality, tragedy, and apathy do we have the courage to say to the Lord as Elisha said to the Lord on that battle field of ancient days, “Do not be afraid for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see. So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. “ Pray my friends that the Lord may open our eyes to his Will and to his Angels. Oh Lord you have bore the cup of wrath for us, we are ready for the new wine.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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