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“Sermons in Stained Glass: Angels”
Matthew 18:10


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost—July 15, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

For our summer sermon series this year we are looking at the meaning of the stained-glass windows in our church.  For this morning’s sermon you will need to look at the picture on the front cover of today’s bulletin.  We last considered the Good Shepherd window above the entrance to our Educational Wing.  This morning we are meditating on the meaning of the two beautiful angel windows on the sides of this entrance. 

I mentioned last time that the artist who created these windows, Jim Berberich of Sioux City, has worked for several different stained-glass firms, specializing in the fine detail painting of areas such as faces.   Because that is his specialty, he lovingly crafted these windows for us with an extraordinary level of fine detail painting rarely found in modern stained-glass.  That can especially be seen in the wings, hair, faces, hands, robes, and musical instruments of these angels.  Today on your way out of church or some other time go and take a good look at these beautiful windows.

Angels are very popular in modern American spirituality, but many popular notions about angels aren’t true.  Most of all, it is not true that when people die they become angels.  That erroneous idea is not found anywhere in the Bible, but somehow it has become a very widely held belief, even among Christians.  According to the Bible, angels were part of God’s original creation in the beginning, as Psalm 148 says, “Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts. . .  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.”

Also, we are not supposed to pray to or otherwise worship angels, which is another widely held but erroneous idea.  John says at the end of the book of Revelation, “When I had heard and seen [these things], I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.  But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’”

In contrast to these false ideas, this morning we are going to look six truths about angels from the Bible.

Angels Are for Real

Sometimes in the process of rejecting the wrong ideas that are popular about angels people go too far the other way and deny the existence of angels.  But, angels are clearly spoken of hundreds of times in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments.  In the Christmas story they are described as a “multitude of the heavenly host,” and today’s Old Testament Reading uses a Hebrew figure of speech to describe the unfathomable number of angels that are before the Lord’s throne in heaven: “Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.”

Only two of these angels are given names in the Bible.  The name Gabriel means “Mighty Man of God.”  He is a “messenger” angel in Scripture, appearing to Daniel, with a vision of the future; to Zechariah, telling him that John the Baptist will be born; and bringing Mary the news, “You will be with child and give birth to a Son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”

Michael is described as the archangel and prince of the angels.  The name Michael actually is a question, “Who Is Like God?”  It’s a rhetorical question, to stress that no one, not even the mighty archangel Michael himself, is equal to God.  Michael is a “warrior” angel in Scripture, commanding God’s army of angels.  Daniel describes him as “the great prince who protects your people,” and Revelation says that “Michael and his angels” are waging a spiritual war on our behalf against the devil and his demons.

Angels Are Awful

In popular culture we tend to picture angels as cute, cuddly cherubs.  But, in the Bible, angels are awful.  You see, the English word “awful” originally meant something that makes you full of awe.  Awful came to have a negative connotation because such awe-inspiring events and persons are often also terrifying.  An example would be a tornado, an “awe-full” event that inspires both awe and fills us with terror.

Angels are so “awe-full” that every time an angel appears to someone in the Bible the first words out of the angel’s mouth are always, “Fear not.”  That’s because, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel Reading, “Angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven,” and as Gabriel tells Zechariah, “I stand in the presence of God.”   The Bible says that when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, “his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord,” and so he had to cover his face with a veil because the people “were afraid to come near him.”  In the same way, angels are awful to us humans because they “stand in the presence of God” and therefore like Moses they reflect the holiness and glory of God.  Like the ancient Israelites with Moses, humans are terrified by the angels’ reflection of God’s holiness and glory, because, as Paul says in Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Far from being cuddly cherubs, Jesus says it is angels who will carry out the final judgment: “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Angels Are Evangelists

The Greek word “angelos” means messenger.  Angels are messengers from God in heaven to us humans here on earth.  And the main message angels bring to down to us from heaven is the Good News of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection.

The Christmas story says: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.’”

And at Easter: “An angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.  The angel said to the women, ‘Fear not, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here, for he is risen.’”

Angels are evangelists, sharing with humanity the Good News that God’s Son came down from heaven, to be born, die, and rise again for us and our salvation.  As the angel told Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  Your sins are all forgiven because Jesus saved you from your sins by living, dying, and rising again as a sacrifice for your salvation.  “I tell you,” Jesus says, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Make God’s angels in heaven rejoice today—repent and trust in Jesus as your Savior!

Angels Are Servants

Angels are of course servants of the God who created them.  As Psalm 103 says, “Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.  Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.”

But, the book of Hebrews adds that angels not only serve God, they also serve all the people of God: “Are not all angels ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” 

Angels Are All Around Us

Angels don’t always appear to humans in obvious angelic form, as depicted in our stained-glass windows.  The Bible says that often their angelic nature is hidden as they come to us in human likeness. You may recall that in Genesis, Abraham and his wife Sarah entertained three mysterious men who were actually angels sent to tell them the news that in their old age Abraham and Sarah would have their son Isaac.  In the New Testament, Hebrews explains that we also may be visited by angels unawares: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

I’ve told before a true story about a Missouri Synod military chaplain stationed in Alaska in the 1960’s.  One night he received an urgent call from another base.  A woman was having difficulty in childbirth, and she was asking for a Protestant chaplain.  He headed out in his jeep, but along the way a blizzard suddenly engulfed him and he went off the road.  He was miles from anywhere, stuck in a ditch, unable to see even a few feet in front of his face.  As he stood there pondering his hopeless situation, he was startled when behind him a voice said softly, “Can I help you, chaplain?”  There, from out of nowhere, stood a young man in military uniform.  “Where did you come from?” the chaplain asked.  “Let’s just get your jeep back on the road,” the young man said.  Together they pushed it out of the ditch.  But, when the chaplain went around to the other side of the jeep, the young man was gone, disappeared into nowhere.  Later he checked with all the military bases to try to find out the young man’s identity so that he could thank him, but they reported that because of the blizzard that night there were no soldiers off base anywhere.  That Missouri Synod pastor says the only possible explanation is that God sent an angel to rescue him.

No doubt there have been countless times in your life when angels have been there, guarding you and helping you, without you even knowing it.  Only in heaven we will realize all the times God’s angels have saved us.  As Martin Luther wrote in his morning and evening prayers, “Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.”

Angels Are Personal

Jesus says in today’s Gospel Reading, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”  

That is why we put these pictures of angels on either side of the entry to our Educational Wing, Preschool, and After School Care.  They represent “their angels” Jesus speaks of, the guardian angels watching over the children who pass through these doors.

And not only little children, but every Christian has “their angels,” special guardian angels, assigned especially to you.  As Psalm 34 says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”  And Psalm 91 promises, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.”

Amen.

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